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Tribute concert today celebrates Minnesota’s Judy Garland, re-creating a special night in a special place

Family, friends and admirers are gathering tonight in New York City to re-create some of the magic of her legendary 1961 “comeback concert” — “Judy at Carnegie Hall.”

Judy Garland
Judy Garland

Today, the entertainment world in New York City pays tribute to a Minnesota icon, re-creating a special night at a special place 50 years ago.

Her daughter, Lorna Luft, joins the New York Pops and other Broadway performers to honor Frances Ethel Gumm, the Grand Rapids native better known to the world as Judy Garland

Tonight’s concert features music from Garland’s April 23, 1961, “comeback concert” at Carnegie Hall — an event that Vanity Fair apparently hypes as “The Greatest Night in Show Business History.”

That sounds more than a bit over the top, but it certainly was special. “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” the resulting two-record live recording, charted for 73 weeks on Billboard (including 13 at No. 1). And it cleaned up at the Grammys, winning four awards: Album of the Year, Best Female Vocal Performance, Best Engineered Album and Best Album Cover.

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And there’s even word of a new CD issue of the famed recording.

There are tons of tribute sites to Judy, as well as the museum in Grand Rapids, where an annual June festival celebrates her life and career.

And some of the sites deal with her hectic, high-wire, 47-year life, which during the 1950s hit a very solid floor that included drug and alcohol abuse and several health issues.

 Her museum website sums up her life nicely in her own words, written to a fan in a 1958 film magazine:

“Basically, I am still Judy Garland, a plain American girl from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, who’s had a lot of good breaks, a few tough breaks, and who loves you with all her heart for your kindness in understanding that I am nothing more, nothing less.”

Lots of people, though, think she was very special.

As an actress and singer, she starred in the 1939 classic film “Wizard of Oz” and teamed with Mickey Rooney in “Babes in Arms” (as in this song, which is more well known from “Singin’ in the Rain”) and all those “Andy Hardy” movies. And on the big screen, Garland  introduced such standards as “The Trolley Song” in “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “On the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe” in “The Harvey Girls.”

Here are a few of my other favorites:

“Carolina in the Morning,” a great version of the standard with all of those great internal rhymes piling up:

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“Strolling with my girlie where the dew is pearly early
In the morning
Butterflies all flutter up and kiss each little buttercup
at dawning
If I had Aladdin’s lamp for only a day
I’d make a wish and here’s what I’d say
Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina
In the morning!”

Fred Astaire and Judy bumming around in “A Couple of Swells,” from “Easter Parade.”

And “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” — don’t be fooled by the mellow start, because the second half really swings.

So, it’s a big weekend for the Garland clan. In addition to all this hoopla, daughter Liza Minnelli turns 65 on Saturday and also is being honored in New York, although it doesn’t sound like she’s taking part in today’s concert.

Cheers to her, too. I’ll close with one of her best performances — from one of her career highlights, the 1972 TV special “Liza With a Z,” which won four Emmys and a Peabody. Check out “Ring Them Bells,” an extremely clever song with extremely fun choreography.