From The Editor: In these difficult times, Tunes For These Times spotlights lesser-known recordings from favorite performers on albums that deliver joy.
By Libby Whittemore For Eldredge ATL
The year was 1969. I had just finished the 7th grade and was giddy with excitement about entering the 8th grade in the fall. This was back in the Dark Ages, before “Middle School”. So, I would be attending Northside High School as what was then called a Sub Freshman. Side note: ya know you’re old when the high school you went to no longer exists.
But I digress … how unlike me.
Anyway, my favorite activity was to close myself up in the den, put on one of my Barbra Streisand albums and sing along … full voice. This particular day, for reasons that remain unclear, I decided to look at my mom’s record collection. Since her collection consisted mostly of operas and comedy albums, I don’t know what I thought I’d find.
After thumbing through Turandot, Tosca, Madam Butterfly, etc. “Here Come The Birds” (about the Johnson White House), “The First Family” (about the Kennedys) and Alan Sherman … suddenly there it was … Judy Garland’s 1967 live album, “At Home At The Palace.”
I had no idea mom had this album, I found out that the reason she had it was because mom had been at the concert! Of course, I knew who Judy Garland was but I had never heard her in concert, never heard her chatting with the audience, I had never really experienced her in all her glory.
From the moment the overture started, I was mesmerized. (I would later hear the same overture on the “Judy at Carnegie Hall” album, but to this day prefer the Bobby Cole Orchestra version on the “At Home At The Palace” album to the Carnegie Hall take by Mort Lindsey). An interesting tidbit about the overture — when you listen to this album, and I truly hope you do, pay attention to the audience’s reaction.
When the overture ends of course they go crazy but you can notice at the point when Judy would walk onstage, there is a slight hesitation … ever so slight. As if they are wondering “Where is she? She hasn’t come out … oh no, is she gonna make it?” And then, slowly, from the back of the house you hear this tidal wave of elation, of adulation. Because in this concert, Judy entered from the back of the house. And my mom would later tell me that as she came down the aisle, Judy put her hand on my mom’s shoulder!
It wasn’t long before I knew every lyric, every inflection in her voice, every breath and could I sing along without missing a beat. And so it would go, every day after school, I would close the door to the den … my own private Palace Theater, grab my “microphone” (which was a pencil, nothing as fancy as a hairbrush) and sing my heart out. I would perform the entire album from start to finish, including all the patter, and I would even conduct the Overture.
It was only a month or so after discovering this masterpiece of an album that I heard the news that Judy Garland had died. I remember I cried — for a very selfish reason. I realized that I would never get the opportunity to see her in person.
That this album was the closest I would ever get, perhaps that is the reason I treasure it so to this day.
As a singer and actress, Libby Whittemore has been gracing Atlanta stages now for over four decades. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her annual “Libby’s at the Express” spring engagement at Actor’s Express has been cancelled. But this Thursday, April 16 at 7:30 pm, fans can join Whittemore and her longtime musical director Robert Strickland for a special concert on Facebook Live.
You can listen to “At Home At The Palace” here.
If you like Judy Garland “At Home At The Palace,” check out her iconic 1961 two-LP live recording “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” featuring all of the performer’s most identified songs, including “The Trolley Song” and “The Man That Got Away” and her unexpectedly effervescent 1958 studio album “Judy in Love” featuring gorgeous — and swinging — arrangements by Nelson Riddle.