Technically speaking, I wasn't, yet, at all on the night of Sunday, April 23, 1961 - 53 years ago tonight - but nonetheless I know where I would have wanted to be.
It's also the day on which we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday (450 this year, as I'm sure you've read or heard today), so may be there's just something show-bizzy in the air. There certainly was that night, when Judy Garland and 3,165 of her closest friends (Ethel Merman, Rock Hudson, Harold Arlen, and Benny Goodman among them) gathered in an intimate little Manhattan boite for a night of song. That night, Judy Garland did what she as born to do: she sang, a lot, and talked and laughed and even danced, a little, for an audience that was both prepared to adore her and ready to be surprised and thrilled at just what she could do when all the stars aligned. And aligned they were.
Oh, I know I'm a big old-fashioned Judy Queen. I'm not ashamed of it. There's hardly a month goes by that I don't listen to all or part of that concert, and every time I hear something new and thrilling. I can hardly conceive what it must have been like - however many astonishing and marvelous things I've heard in Carnegie Hall, and on that front I've been lucky - to have been one of those 3,165.
Never again would it be so perfect for her, and the next time she galvanized a New York crowd to the edge of riot and beyond she wasn't even there to witness it; Stonewall, of course, happened in the wake of her funeral. While there may or may not have been a direct connection, there's a fitting poetry to the book-ending of the two events, an elegant night at New York's most elegant hall at the start of the decade and a street uprising of people tired of wondering why, oh, why can't I? at its close.
"I know!" she cries as the crowd goes mad, "I'll sing 'em all and we'll stay all night!" That night finally ended, but she's still singing them, and taking us with her, on her trolley, to Chicago and San Francisco and down the Swanee, finally, inevitably, over her rainbow.
To me, though, the great moment is "If Love Were All." She sang it again, just a few years later, on her television show: