The World's Greatest Entertainer. Miss Show Business. The One And Only. Judy Garland was labeled with many superlatives as she hit the heights in her roller coaster of a career. As has been amply documented, she went from being America's Sweetheart into one of the most mismanaged careers in Show Business history and it's astonishing how much she accomplished against such enormous obstacles. Despite her short life and personal troubles, she left behind an indelible legacy in popular music, the impact of which is particularly felt in modern musical theatre, where it's safe to say nearly every single performer — and certainly every single female performer of any note — is deeply influenced by Garland.
At the very least, our modern idea of emotive, conversational singing, (as opposed to, say, classical, blues or jazz) was if not invented, then defined and perfected by Judy Garland. Even in her early career as a juvenile lead at the old MGM, Judy gave her song performances an extra weight and conviction — be it via profound pathos or unbridled joy. This is a skill she continued to develop as her career matriculated (or in a sense, was exiled) to television and concert stages, to the point where her showmanship, song interpretation, musicality and phrasing whipped crowds around the world into a hysterical frenzy unlike anything seen before or since, even as Garland's legendary, once-in-a-century voice began to more frequently exhibit the strain of hard work and hard living. Listening to some of the later work where the voice is less there, it's almost beside the point. Still, though — and even in its most diminished state — Judy Garland's voice was one of the great wonders of the world. Capable of both colossal belting and the sweetest crooning, her vocal beauty and power were limitless. A master at the styles of her era, she could swing a swing and nail a march with the best of them, but never sacrificed her singular expressiveness and always embodied the lyrics with a compelling personal connection.
June 10 would have been Judy's 92nd birthday and her memory continues to be celebrated. Justin Sayre's The Meeting* (of the I.O.S.) presents the fourth annual "Night Of A Thousand Judys" June 16 at Merkin Hall with a host of guest stars performing songs from Garland's repertoire including Sierra Boggess, Sarah Dash, Alison Fraser, Randy Harrison, Jackie Hoffman, Jane Monheit, Julia Murney and Rory O'Malley, directed and choreographed by Jason Wise. As always, it's exciting just to imagine which of Judy's unforgettable classics everybody will be singing.
Click through to read my selections for the Essential Judy Garland On Disc.
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