17 Mar 2020

The music of Judy Garland

From Afternoons, 2:30 pm on 17 March 2020

Judy Garland would have to be one of the most tragic stories in Hollywood - five marriages, forced by her mother to take uppers and downers to keep her working, dozens of movies, and she was MGM's darling for many years.

She died aged 47 from a barbiturate overdose, but it's the feeling she left behind that we remember. 

A Great Lady Has an Interview, 1945.

A Great Lady Has an Interview, 1945. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures / AFP

There’s something in the core of her voice that invites the listener in, says Gregory Camp from Auckland University.

“There’s a clarity to the way she sings, the way she delivers the text that pulls you in.”

He says she’s able to sing not just the text but the subtext, going deeper into the meaning.

Garland was also lucky to be at MGM when it had the best music studio in Hollywood, in the late 30s and 40s, Camp says.

One of her most famous songs, introduced in the film A Star is Born is The Man that Got Away.

While she was working, Garland had a large gay following. It took off especially after her death.

“A lot of people say it’s partly to do with the fact that her funeral was the day before the Stonewall Riots in New York.

“And the rainbow connection, one of her most famous songs being Over the Rainbow…the old saying ‘a friend of Dorothy’ is code for gay.

“It’s really…the way that she overcame a lot of suffering to get to where she was and to still create these amazing performances, resonated with a lot of gay people in the 60s and 70s.”

Judy, a biographical drama about the star’s life 30 years after staring in The Wizard of Oz, was recently released.

It follows the story of the end of her career, performing in London.

A great example of Garland’s later big band style of music is Never Will I Marry, Camp says.

“She knows how to use her range, she knows which notes she can belt, I’m sure she was working closely with her arrangers to decide which key to perform in.”

Renee Zellweger, who plays Garland in Judy, delivers and amazing performance, Camp says.

“She managed to capture the essence of Judy Garland without making it just an imitation of Judy Garland.

“She clearly studied very hard the recordings and the videos of Judy Garland but she also allowed her own personality as a performer to come into it as well.”

At the end of her career, Garland’s voice wasn’t in good shape.

“Partly to do with overuse and partly to do with the drugs that she was addicted to, that addiction had lasted a very long time, throughout her career.”

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