"My If/Then Moment": LaChanze Recounts the Divine Intervention Leading Her to the 9/11 Memorial

By LaChanze as told to Michael Gioia
18 Jun 2014

LaChanze
LaChanze

In 2001 LaChanze lost husband Calvin J. Gooding in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Twelve years later, the Tony Award winner for The Color Purple — newly single following a split from second husband Derek Fordjour — began a new Broadway journey in If/Then, a musical about chance, choice and starting over. LaChanze recently honored her late husband by singing "Amazing Grace" at the May 15 dedication of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

She recounts the moment to Playbill.

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Well, it's fascinating that the whole experience, to me, was an If/Then moment. The day prior, on Wednesday, Idina Menzel said to me, "I'm feeling a little sick." She got through the matinee, and during the evening performance she really was struggling at the top of the first act. Before the Act I finale, we were in the wing, and she said, "I don't think I can do the second act."



I said, "Good, you need to take care of yourself," and she said, "But I'm singing at the 9/11 Memorial Museum tomorrow… Can you do it?" As she was opening the curtain to go on stage, I said, "Yes."

She went into her dressing room and said, "I'm going to check to see if we can do this because President Obama is going to be there… Let's make sure you're cleared." I'm thinking they're not going to clear me, but as soon as she mentioned me, they must have thought, "Why not LaChanze?"

Idina sends me a text: "They want you to do it. It's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' with a string quartet. And, it's a different arrangement, so you've really got to listen and learn."

From 11 PM-2 AM, I am thinking about clothing, makeup, hair and learning the song — that's all I'm doing. I go to sleep for three hours because I have to be down there at 7 AM. Since it's the 9/11 Museum, I'm going to take my daughters. We've not seen it yet, and it would be a great opportunity for us — still not tapping into the fact of what the emotion is for me.

We are in the car. We're on our way down. I get a call: "LaChanze, for reasons we cannot disclose, you will not be singing 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.' Can you sing 'Amazing Grace'? … You're going to have to sing it a cappella." This happens on the East River Drive a half-hour before I get there. My manager is freaking out, but I've got to tell you something, I was not stirred by it. It didn't upset me. Something about it felt so right.

 Continued...