Lorna Luft, daughter of the late Judy Garland, gave an emotional performance of her mother’s signature tune “Over the Rainbow” at New York City’s Feinstein’s/54 Below on Wednesday night – the first she’s ever given of the song, she says.
“I’ve never sung this song,” Luft told concertgoers before the performance. “Not because it was too hard for me emotionally, but because I always felt you can’t improve on perfect. But I thought to myself, if I’m ever going to sing this, now is the time.”
The emotional moment came 47 years to the day after Garland died at the age of 47, reportedly due to an accidental overdose.
Garland’s funeral and memorial service was held in Manhattan on June 27, 1969. In the early morning hours of June 28 that same year, the New York Police Department raided the gay-friendly Greenwich Village tavern Stonewall Inn, where a group had gathered to mourn the late singer.
Raids on gay-friendly establishments were commonplace in New York in the 1960s. But that night, the marginalized LGBTQ community members took a stand and fought back against police. The Stonewall Riots, as they came to be known, ignited the modern Gay Rights Movement – memorialized today all over the country in June’s various Pride marches.
Luft, 63, was 16 at the time of her mother’s death, and said she didn’t hear about the Stonewall uprising – and the connection it had to her mother’s death – until much later in life. She made her first visit to the historic bar two days prior to the concert.
“I carry that historic event through the legacy of my family,” Luft told the crowd. “And my mother would have loved the fact that people fought back because she hated bigotry and she hated injustice.”
“And don’t ask how much she would have loved that rainbow flag,” Luft joked.
Before singing the song, Luft also addressed last week’s shooting at Orlando’s gay nightclub Pulse – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history which left 49 people dead and 53 injured.
“I stand here tonight, shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and my sisters from the LGBT community,” Luft explained. “I stand here with every single fiber of my being. I stand here tonight. I stand here forever.”
“We’ve all been so hit by what happened in Orlando. And I wanted to find a song that sort of said what we hope for, and a song about hope and a song about love,” she added.
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“Over the Rainbow,” with music by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, was written for the iconic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. “When all the world is a hopeless jumble, and the raindrops tumble all around …” the song begins.
Luft teared up during the performance, and received a standing ovation by its end.
She’ll reprise the performance tonight and tomorrow night, during encore engagements at the popular music venue.