Watch This: Judy Garland Sings a Song of National Healing

Judy Garland (born June 10, 1922) has been gone for over fifty years now, but her legacy lives on in her films, her recordings and in the cultural values she represented – particularly to the gay community. Stonewall coincided with her funeral. The rainbow Pride flag, designed by Gilbert Baker, is likely, in part, a nod to “Over The Rainbow.”

The cultural icon status she enjoys is complicated, and many have written and spoken about it over the years, but it would all be a moot point if she had not been a truly spectacular performer. At the microphone she sometimes gave the impression of a colossal hurricane of life-energy coursing through a thin reed. You can see that in the performance that follows, which our friend Rebecca Beegle shared with us as part of her AFS History Of Television presentation about Garland’s short-lived TV show.

The situation was this. President Kennedy had been assassinated in November, 1963. The nation was naturally in shock and mourning during this time period, and Garland was especially distraught, as she had campaigned for JFK and become friends with him. At times when he needed comfort he used to call her and ask her to sing “Over The Rainbow” by phone.

Three weeks after the tragedy, she returned to her television show. The song she chose to sang was not a typical one. You just don’t hear this one done from the stage by popular music performers, but this was the song that conveyed her emotion best.

She was always a performer who felt deeply, and communicated these feelings with great power. As she sings the “Battle Hymn Of The Republic” here, it almost seems like this tiny, fragile, cracked corporeal vessel will shatter under the strain of the mighty storm that courses through it. Yes, it is theatrical, but that’s who she is. She expresses raw truth in the same show business language invented by slick, skillful liars, and here it reaches a level of sanctification in national grief.

It’s a remarkable moment. Please enjoy and reflect.


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