AST Founder Michael Estwanik's "Top Three"

No greater joy is there in life than to watch a powerful artist deliver a message to a captivated audience. If you’ve been an audience member riveted by a singer who simply transports you to another place and time, you know. For everyone else, there’s the joy of watching cherished performances on film or video. And today, we have the fun of YouTube.

In this monthly blog series, a friend of American Songbook Today who donates $100 can share their “Top Three” picks of their favorite videos. Today, Founder and President Michael Estwanik offers his take:

Tina Turner “Proud Mary”

Whether Ms. Turner performed this when she was 40, 50, 60 , or 70 – she always “KILLED” as the young folk say.

Hugh Jackman “Once Before I Go” from the Broadway show The Boy from Oz 

This song was based upon the life of the Australian and then American songwriter/performer, Peter Allen.  The song was written, as I understand it, with Liza Minnelli in mind, because they were ending their ill-fated marriage.  Peter was gay and so there wasn’t much point in staying together, except as friends.  In The Boy from Oz this song was used at the very end of the show when Peter Allen knew he was dying from AIDS.  It was also his way, I guess, of saying goodbye to each night’s audience.  I saw the show five times myself because I knew that performers who can do it all, especially men, only come along once in a great while. 

Hugh Jackman has star quality just as his fellow Aussie, Peter Allen did.  During the run, I arranged house seats for my beautiful and wonderful cousin Judy and her husband from Santa Fe to see the show. I had sent her the CD in advance because I always think that one can better appreciate a musical knowing the score beforehand, just like opera.  Of course, Judy and Lee both flipped over the show.  About five years later, Judy succumbed to cancer after a valiant fight.  Her son, Barry, told us at her Celebration of Life gathering, that about two weeks before she joined the angels, Judy got out of her bed, put on a bathrobe, and led him into her garage to sit in her car and listen to a song.  She said, “Barry honey, This is the song that I hope you will use somehow during my funeral/gathering.”  So one month later I flew in for her Celebration of Life and Barry told that story, as an intro to his masterful video of highlights of Judy’s beautiful life.  So this song will always have a special meaning to me. 

Judy Garland “Over the Rainbow” from 1955, Judy’s first TV Special.  

As most of you know Judy , since she was a mere 14 years old was a victim of the MGM Studio system.  They kept young actors like her and Mickey Rooney going 20 hours a day with pills.  Judy fought this addiction and alcoholism the rest of her life. 

In 1951, during her historic comeback concert at the Palace Theatre, Judy had just performed a “Couple of Swells” which she had introduced with Fred Astaire in their film Easter Parade.  In this rare footage, still dressed in her hobo costume from that number, she simply walked down to the footlights, sat on the edge of the stage and sang her most famous song.  To me, this is her definitive version of the song.  She lets us see her soul.