Judy Garland has been called by many respected sources as the “entertainer of the century.” Whether that is true or not I think it is fair to say that there certainly was no one then or now who could deliver the vocal goods quite like Garland or as inimitably.
Judy Garland had a naturally gifted instrument that grew quite quickly, especially once she was under the watchful eye of Roger Edens of MGM. But even before Edens, Garland’s voice at 14 had qualities of a mature woman, with both rich timbre and multiple facets.
There were many very great singers during Garland’s life but she was singular in her ability to “act” a song vocally. Of course, she was an accomplished screen actress in her own right, but without all of that she could simple stand and sing and communicate like no one else. It was all in the voice and her fans rightfully adored her for that.
She also knew what she was doing. Barely five feet tall, this little wren of a woman produced a prodigious sound through solid technique and a completely open throat, something few singers understand about. Despite her abuse of alcohol and drugs, along with cigarette smoking, the technique carried her through to her untimely end.
While she owns many standards in the American Songbook, including Over the Rainbow, The Trolley Song, You Made Me Love You, Weep no More, My Lady and others, if there was one song that captured all the great qualities of this modest paragon I think it would be The Man That Got Away. Written for her by Harold Arlen (who also wrote the music to Oz) for the 1954 film A STAR IS BORN, it’s a spellbinding performance of majestic vocal proportions. In my estimation it’s the greatest torch song performance of all time.
Here is the final version (there were several filmed) of The Man That Got Away from A STAR IS BORN. By the way, if you haven’t seen the restored version, you’re missing one of the great films as well as Garland at her all-time best. Enjoy!
Sean O’Meara is a Los Angeles singer and entertainer. His one-man show “American Songbook Gold” is available for booking at establishments, parties and corporate events.