Since April, Atlanta cabaret icon Libby Whittemore has unexpectedly produced and performed more than 30 original weekly shows, making 2020 one of the musically busiest of her 40-year career. With the COVID crisis immobilizing the world’s stages, Whittemore, along with her longtime musical director Robert Strickland, have transformed her Atlanta living room into a public concert space, inviting cabaret fans from across the globe to join her — for free — each Thursday evening via Facebook Live.
“I’m still shocked every week when people show up,” says the singer, laughing. “I keep expecting to hear, ‘We’ve had enough of her. Our plates are full. We could not take another morsel.’ That’s why you’ll notice I always put on my glasses at the beginning of the show each week to see if anyone is there. If I see comments coming in, we do the first song.”
Putting on a new show a la Judy and Mickey each week for over eight months was decidedly not originally on Whittemore’s 2020 dance card.
With the world in quarantine last spring, Whittemore had the idea to perform a one-off streaming show on the evening when her annual scheduled show at Actor’s Express was originally slated to open: “We thought, ‘Well, since we can’t do the show in-person, we’ll stream it on Facebook Live. And then the comments started rolling in and people wouldn’t let us stop!”
This Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm, folks tuning in will get a special holiday treat when Whittemore and Strickland will perform her annual “Ho, Ho Home for the Holidays” show online Thursday night and on Friday, Whittemore will hand her makeshift living room cabaret stage over to her longtime “Della’s Diner” doppelganger, Connie Sue Day, the 31st Lady of Country Music.
Cracks Whittemore: “I’m not sure how my living room is going to contain Connie Sue’s Christmas show. She’s a lot to take in. We’ll see how that goes. People may be sorry they asked but she’ll be there!”
For both Whittemore and Strickland, performing the weekly Libby’s Living Room Cabaret shows has been a way for them to stay sane in a year filled with craziness and uncertainty as the ongoing public health crisis resulted in a nearly year-long lock down. “It gave me something to focus on,” the singer says. “Every Friday, the day after the show, I come up with a list of songs for the next week and then send it to Robert and he does the charts or pulls the charts for the songs we’ve done before. We rehearse on Tuesdays and then we do the show live every Thursday night.”
The concerts-in-quarantine have ended up deepening the four-decade collaborative friendship between the two artists. Says Whittemore: “I can mess up, forget lyrics or skip an entire verse and Robert’s right there with me. That comfort level that comes from working together since the dawn of time is priceless. The only way I can do this is knowing that Robert’s doing it with me. We’re bonded because we’re flying by the seat of our pants!”
Each week, Whittemore and Strickland end their set with the 1966 Hal David/Burt Bacharach penned hit for Jackie DeShannon, “What the World Needs Now is Love,” and the singer thanking viewers and urging them to stay safe and to please wear a mask.
For longtime Libby’s regulars (and new fans — including Hallmark movie icon Barbara Niven — tuning in each week from places like Brazil and Slovenia), “Ho, Ho Home for the Holidays” will be a mix of seasonal standards she’s performed live over the years at Actor’s Express and her former Atlanta nightclub, Libby’s a Cabaret. And Connie Sue’s show with Robbie Lee Strickland on Friday night? “Their show doesn’t change,” says Whittemore. “Connie Sue gets a tish cranky if you go changing things on her!”
On New Year’s Eve, Whittemore and Strickland will return to ring in the New Year with a greatest hits Living Room Cabaret live for fans, beginning at 11:30 p.m. “Since everyone will be stuck on their couches this year, we figured why not,” she says. “I mean, it’s not like I had plans.”
Each week following the live stream, Whittemore peels off her eyelashes and make up to sit down and read the hundreds of comments posted by viewers. Shows have been racking up a 1,000 or more views per week. “In a year when we’ve all needed it, people have been so kind and so lovely,” says Whittemore. “It’s overwhelming. This is therapeutic for me, especially now because of COVID when we’re all so disconnected. This is a way for me to feel useful, to feel connected with the world. Coming together each Thursday night has become our way of telling each other that we’re still here and we’re going to be OK. It just fills me with gratitude.”
Libby’s Living Room Cabaret’s “Ho, Ho, Home for the Holidays” streams on Libby Whitmore’s Facebook page Thursday, Dec. 17 at 7:30 pm. EST and “A Connie Sue Day Christmas” will stream on Friday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 pm EST. On New Year’s Eve, Whittemore and Robert Strickland will ring in 2021 with fans beginning at 11:30 p.m. EST.
To check out official Libby’s Living Room Cabaret merch, go to the singer’s website.
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.