Thoroughly Modern Libby: With ‘Confessions of Hallmark Addict’ and a New Website, Libby Whittemore Embraces the Future
Nearly 20 years into the new millennium, Libby Whittemore cracks that she’s finally embracing the 21st century. With “Confessions of a Hallmark Addict,” her funny new social media video series dedicated to her favorite cable channel being shared and re-tweeted by popular Hallmark actors, including Barbara Niven and Kristoffer Polaha, the veteran Atlanta singer and actress is indeed exploring new ways to connect with Whittemore aficionados.
Earlier this month, she debuted an official website, libbywhittemore.com, where, for the first time, fans can buy CDs and MP3s of her entire studio discography, along with Connie Sue Day merchandise (based on her iconic 31st Lady of Country Music “Della’s Diner” character created by Tom Edwards) and Libby’s A Cabaret apparel bearing the signature neon logo of the beloved nightclub she operated in Buckhead from 2000 to 2006.
Between rehearsals for her upcoming series of shows, “Libby’s at the Express: Musical Cavalcade 2” with longtime pals Shawn Megorden and Lisa Paige and accompanied by the Robert Strickland Combo set for May 2-5 at Actor’s Express, Whittemore took time out to discuss her new-found success as a digital media diva over lunch at OK Café in Buckhead.
Sliding a tempting plate of fried cheese grits across the table inside the busy lunch spot (“It’s grits, it’s cheese, it’s deep-fried. It’s the trifecta of foods!”), Whittemore explains that her unplanned entrée in DIY videos was the result of experiencing a few holiday blues before her series of yuletide-themed shows at Actor’s Express back in 2017. Flipping around channels one night at home, Whittemore stumbled onto a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. She watched it. Then she watched another. And another.
“Before I knew it, it wasn’t just the Christmas movies either,” recalls Whittemore. “I was mainlining. I mean, I had a Hallmark Christmas movie in a vein in my arm and I was shooting up episodes of “Chesapeake Shores” between my toes. It was bad.”
One night on stage, Whittemore cracked a joke in her first act monologue about her new Hallmark habit. It got a big reaction from the audience (“If something gets a laugh, I keep it”). Whittemore also noticed audiences were nodding and saying, “Me too!”
So, for her Christmas 2018 show, she wrote an entire monologue dedicated to her Hallmark addiction and while learning it, decided to film herself practicing it. Then, just before Christmas, she decided to share the video on Facebook and Twitter and other Hallmark fans and the network’s repertory company of actors started reposting it.
Last week, Whittemore posted her eighth video in the series. “I’m feeling the pressure now,” she says. “People on Twitter and Instagram are asking when the next one is coming. I had no idea how many people loved this channel.”
But given the current state of the country, Whittemore says it’s only natural folks are looking for an escape these days. “People are looking for a refuge,” she says. “On the Hallmark Channel, you know what you’re going to get. You know everything is going to be OK in the end. Plus, with people like Barbara Niven and Kristoffer Polaha, there’s this repertory company of actors viewers love. They’re creating family.”
On her new website, Whittemore is sharing her “Confessions of a Hallmark Addict” videos, and for the first time ever, is giving fans a chance to purchase her studio discography, either as a digital download, physical CD or a bundle of both.
As an exclusive for Eldredge ATL readers, Whittemore reflected on each album and her memories associated with each:
“Almost a Legend,” 1998
[Atlanta attorney and friend] Chuck Richards put up the money to get this made. This was my first album, so it’s special to me. I had done these songs for so long, all of the vocals were done in one take. It felt very surreal being in a studio recording an album because I thought it was something I would never do. K.T. Oslin’s “80s Ladies” remains a favorite. A friend of mine had a friend in Tennessee who knew Brenda Lee. They played my version of “Break It to Me Gently” for her. She said, “Well, she sure sang the hell out of that!” I do love the back cover. Look at those legs, would ya? It’s very Judy Garland.
“Guilty Pleasures,” 2000
We did this live in the studio but with Libby’s Cabaret regulars as the audience. I believe we went straight through, the same way we did the show in the club. We wanted to capture the energy of the live show but recorded in the studio. We brought the audience in because it would have felt weird doing the show by myself. It’s not how I’m used to working so we just piled everyone in and had fun. Tom Edwards wrote the script. It’s a wonderful homage to our long working relationship. Plus, it’s got my Buckhead Target monologue, which back then was a big deal because it had just opened, it was two floors and had an escalator for your cart!
“Libby and a Baby Grand,” 2003
This was recorded back when I was still operating the club. People wanted another album but I had no money. I thought, let’s do an album with just vocals and Robert [Strickland] on piano. We did one take on every song, all 19 of them. For most of my life, that’s how I worked in clubs. All those years working at the Coach & Six [restaurant], it was just me and a pianist. So, this format was very comfortable to me. And of course, Robert is a genius. He’s not just a great pianist, he’s a great accompanist. Not all piano players are. He’s very sensitive to the singer. And of course, we’ve worked together so long now that he knows when I’m going to take a breath, how long I’m going to hold a note. Plus, he’s a brilliant arranger. I love the odd things on this album — “A Foggy Day,” “The Flintstones Theme,” “The Rose.” Oh, and “Send in the Clowns,” for my great aunt Lib Hunt, who loved that song. I wanted to put that on the album for her.
“Libby’s New CD Finally,” 2010
This came along because people kept saying, “You need a new CD.” That’s why it has such a thoroughly original title. We went back through my songs to figure out what we hadn’t done yet because it felt like we had recorded everything. I love that we recorded “Mountain Greenery.” I mean, who else is going to record a song I first heard Rob and Laura Petrie sing it as a duet on the old “Dick Van Dyke Show.” “Rainy Days and Mondays?” You can’t get better than Karen Carpenter. This was some fun stuff I had been singing for years that I had never gotten around to recording, including “The Man That Got Away.” It was in Judy’s [Garland] version of “A Star is Born” and then it’s also on her “At Home at The Palace 1967” album, which we had growing up because my mother was in the audience that night. When Judy came through the back of the house at the start of the show, she walked up the aisle and put her hand on my mother’s shoulder. So, basically, I’m one degree away from the queen!
Taking a final forkful of her Caesar salad, Whittemore says she’s thrilled to have the opportunity to get these recordings back into the hands of the people who have supported her career in Atlanta for over 40 years now.
“[Arranger and accompanist] Robert [Strickland] and I were able to have complete creative control over how we wanted these to sound,” says Whittemore. “That was a huge gift. I treated these as if I was recording four live concerts. I never thought I would ever have an album, let alone four. I never thought people would be interested. I was absolutely thrilled to find out through Facebook that people still want these and I’m ready to get them back out there. Otherwise, in 500 years, some archeologist is going to dig a hole where my basement was and find a box of 500 CDs.”
Libby Whittemore will perform “Libby’s at the Express: Musical Cavalcade 2” with longtime pals Shawn Megorden and Lisa Paige and accompanied by the Robert Strickland Combo Thursday, May 2 through Sunday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. Actor’s Express. For tickets and more info, go to actors-express.com.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.