Last night was one of the most magical moments that I’ve had the opportunity to experience. I felt like Eliza Doolittle when I got home. As I bubbled over with excitement I recalled Eliza belting out I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night…
On the occasion of my mother’s 59th birthday and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ commemoration of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration I had THE quintessential Washington DC experience. I saw political luminaries and performance legends and I even had the chance to meet a few!
Like any red-blooded American girl I’m in awe of the Kennedy era. Magic radiates from the images, documentaries and personal stories told about the Camelot era. A strikingly beautiful couple that came to the White House with two young children and new ideals…championing civil rights, igniting the space race, encouraging the arts – the Kennedy’s brought hope to a nation. John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy ushered in a new era. This legacy was celebrated at last night’s 50th Anniversary celebration.
I scored a ticket to this event because my father was unable to attend…how could I refuse a night with my dear Mutha (in my best Brooklyn NY brogue) – it was her birthday and it was an evening at the Kennedy Center!
My mother and I arrived early (per usual) and met my Uncle Sandy at the roof top café. My Uncle is an integral part to the story because he scored the tickets for the group of us that attended – THANKS UNC!!! We were joined by a lovely cast of characters…my Aunt Mary (Uncle Sandy’s better half!) and Uncle Paul & Aunt Eva.
The evening started with a cocktail reception. As we gathered around our table (one of those high tables without chairs) to take in the crowd and enjoy each others company I asked Uncle Paul and Aunt Eva about what they remembered of the Kennedy’s. I was also curious about what it was like to have lived long enough to see black Americans go from second class citizenship to seeing Barack and Michelle Obama occupy the White House. The common sentiment was that the electricity that the Kennedy era ushered in was palpable and that the sight of a black man as President of the United State was something that they never imagined would happen in their lifetime.
After a while I felt the need to find a chair for my Aunt Eva…this quest would lead me to my first encounter with Barbra. I walked up to a nearby table and asked if they were using both of their vacant chairs. Mind you, I was just focused on getting a chair AND it was a dimly lit room. I didn’t realize that the woman that told me that the chairs were occupied was Ms. Barbra Streisand.
CLUELESS to my encounter I walked back to our table, however, on the way back I noticed a strikingly handsome, older, tall man with white hair…I asked my Uncle “who is that, he looks familiar?” my Uncle replied “that’s Barbra Streisand’s husband” and I shrieked “oh my gosh that JAMES BROLAND!!!.” Before I could say Yentl Aunt Eva left the table to go speak to him! My Uncle snapped a picture of the encounter and almost as soon as the shutter snapped the lights flickered and it was time to make our way downstairs…
…As we turned to make our way to the elevator I looked over my shoulder at the table of women that wouldn’t give up either chair (to be fair, both chairs were occupied as we were walking out) – her face hit me like a vision – THE WOMAN THAT TOLD ME THAT THE CHAIRS WERE OCCUPIED WAS BARBRA STREISAND…HELLOW GORGEOUS!!!! ( if you don’t understand the reference viewing this piece is mandatory http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index/?cid=225217).
I swear at that minute I wanted to run back to that table and belt out my best rendition of Don’t Rain on My Parade (again, if you don’t know the act you must watch this piece http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_g3kkGH8Mo). I was crushed…I had my chance to say HELLO to Barbra and I had simply asked for one of her chairs – but the night wasn’t over!
We took the elevator downstairs and slowly filed into the concert hall. On the way in we ran into the jazz legend Herbie Hancock – my Uncle orchestrated this fine photo…not my best but oh well (you can’t win em all!).
We get to our seats and the magic continues…the lights are dimmed and the voice says “Introducing the President of the United States”….and just like that President Barack Obama was standing right before my eyes. I drank in that moment. I summoned my entire consciousness to take in that moment, to imprint that man in my memory for a lifetime. President Obama spoke of President Kennedy’s dreams for the country, his belief that America could be better, that America could open it consciousness, and that in the face of difficult times President Kennedy wasn’t afraid to fight the tough battles. His words and his presence were a pleasurable shock to the senses.
After the President left the stage Diane Sawyer and her husband, film director Mike Nichols guided us through the evening’s show. A choir did a lovely rendition of America the Beautiful, the Harvard University Glee Club sang a moving piece while a photo montage of President Kennedy’s life played in the background, a tap dancing duo did a routine that represented the new kinds of artists that the Kennedy’s welcomed to the white house, Yo- Yo Ma played the cello while a ballerina performed an elegant dance tribute, Paul Simon sang the moving song The Sound of Silence http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHBpBffGuq0 , a song that he wrote in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination…and there was so much more! President Kennedy’s three grandchildren recited Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, Morgan Freeman read select stanzas of famous Kennedy speeches while the National Symphony Orchestra played in the background, Herbie Hancock played a jazz rendition of The Way We Were.
And in the end, when the crowd was on its feet I turned around to take in the Kennedy clan that was seated in the first balcony almost directly above me and I saw a face that was Jacqueline Kennedy’s…of course it was not Jackie O but the resemblance was shocking – it was Jackie O’s sister, Lee Radziwill…my night was made. Seeing Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’s face in the face of her sister, Lee Radziwill sent me over the top…
…My eyes panned to the left and I saw John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Caroline Kennedy and her children…and then I saw HER again. BARBRA.
Perhaps I would have another chance.
As we flowed with the crowd that was spilling out of the performance hall my eyes were racing all over the place – where was she?? I couldn’t let my interaction with Barbra Streisand be me asking her for a chair!! So we waited and people watched as the crowd left…we watched the notable Washington DC faces walk by, we watched the Kennedy family congregate, and chatted with people we knew in the crowd. The crowd was thinning but still no Barbra.
I had a feeling of defeat. Maybe I missed her. She was probably ushered out via some secret Kennedy Center hallway that I knew nothing about.
Chairgate would be the bane of my existence…and then I saw her. It was like buttah – I had to redeem myself!
At that moment my typical cool, calm and collected around celebrities self went out the window. I was in full on groupie mode…everything that I learned in New York about not harassing celebrities WAS GONE. I was going to speak to her again.
So I eased up to her…nervous as all get out (this was my view of her* – yep, I was a stalker)…
*I did not take this photo of her – my Uncle did – BUT I was hovering this close to her waiting for the courage to pounce!
…and I said “I asked you for a chair earlier and I didn’t even realize it was you BUT I LOVE YOU, I love your work – I’m so sorry” and she said, in a quiet and demure voice “it was no bother”…and as she walked off, I yelled at her “HELLOW GORGEOUS!”…I think I caught a slight smile on her face.
Oh what a night. It was a great way to celebrate my mother’s 59 years on this earth and a magnificent tribute to a legendary President.
Uncle Sandy – thanks for the memories.