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Seth Sikes on why Judy Garland is (and will forever be) the greatest star of all

Courtesy of Seth Sikes

Seth Sikes is getting ready to celebrate the life of Judy Garland. For us and everyone, she’s still the greatest star of them all – and Seth is totally in agreement.

Ahead of celebrating Judy’s 95th birthday with a special concert here in London of her most-loved songs, the singer tells us why the stage and screen sensation is a lady he just can’t stop lovin’.

Hey Seth! Talk us through your upcoming London show at Zedel. What can we all expect?
The day I will be performing, June 10th, would have been Judy Garland’s 95th birthday. What you can expect is a celebration of her music, and a personal story about how her songs changed my life, from a very young age and as I got older. It will be a celebration and it will be a heartfelt homage with a contemporary feel, without an ounce of cynicism or impersonation. I do not attempt to imitate her.

Not that we really need to ask, but why Judy? What appealed so much?
I discovered Judy when I was a very young boy, in an MGM movie. And immediately the strings of my heart went. I’d never seen or heard anything like it, and I still haven’t. That fat, rich voice, and all that charm in one lady. The obsession ran deep my entire life so when I finally got up to sing, it was Judy. It was always going to be Judy!

And songs wise, what might we be able to hear from you?
All the hits! A lot of songs from the Carnegie Hall concert, certainly, with very similar arrangements. Some rare gems from Summer Stock, like Howdy Neighbor/Happy Harvest. A lot of the Harold Arlen torch songs, including The Man that Got Away. I do not sing Over the Rainbow. As Liza said: It has been done.

Related: On Judy Garland’s birthday, we talk to Lorna Luft about the lasting memory of her iconic mother

Are you allowed to have a favourite Judy song?
Of course, but you’re also allowed to change your favourite every few days, like I do! Luckily there are too many to choose from and these are the greatest song ever written. Today, mine is When the Sun Comes Out.

Audiences wise, does it tend to be a mixed age range of those that join you?
Yes, my audience skews toward older male, but since I’m young(ish), I tend to bring out some younger people – that makes me so happy because part of my mission, I feel, is to keep these songs alive. Some of these younger people have never heard Zing Went the Strings of My Heart or Get Happy and I’m like, ‘What?’

We all know the songs – does that add extra pressure or is it nice to know everyone loves her as much as you do?
I think I’m able to escape some comparison merely because I’m male. I pity the female who tries to perform Judy material. I also think that people, generally, like to hear a song that they know – they perk up. If you like her arrangements, you basically get those too in my show.

Do you have a favourite live performance from her?
Right now it’s her very raw performance of The Battle Hymn of the Republic which she performed on The Judy Garland Show just after President Kennedy, her friend, was assassinated. It is an astonishing moment in Judy, television, and human history.

And her relationship on stage with Liza is iconic. Are you ever tempted to combine and perform one of their signature duets?
Weirdly, I grew up loving Liza too, and I didn’t even realize they were related until later. That revelation was overwhelming for an obsessed kid like me. I actually did a Liza Minnelli tribute in New York last year, for Liza’s 70th Birthday. And this year in New York I’m doing a Judy, Liza, and friends concert during our Pride celebration. So, YES, I’ve thought about that! Liza and Barbra are still alive, so can you imagine doing it with one of them?

As we celebrate her 95th birthday, why do you think Judy’s legacy continues today – so strong and loved by all?
It’s rather simple – she was the greatest entertainer of all time. When her throat opens up to sing, the world stands still. It’s not really a talent you have to explain to people, they just hear it, they see her, and they usually say, ‘Oh my god.’ I don’t think that’s ever going to change since we have so much footage and recordings. As long as there are humans she will continue to be loved, because somehow all of humanity lived in that voice.

Why you think the LGBT+ community adored (and still does) adore her quite so much?
I think LBTQ people have great taste. Liza says the same thing. They tend to dress well, they gravitate toward the finest art; it’s not surprising to me that they should recognize the immensity of Judy’s talent. I personally don’t think it has to do with her tragedy. I also think that a lot of gay young boys stood in front of the mirror singing songs like The Man That Got Away.

I think, on some level, they wanted to be her – to to be that funny and to be that fabulous. I’m lucky as when I get to sing her songs, I get to pretend that to be that fabulous. But who could be? Who could, ever?

More information on Seth’s concert at Zedel can be found here

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