Patti LuPone doing a good job at singing may not sound like front-page news. She’s won a bunch of awards and has been nominated for even more, thanks to her powerful voice and Juilliard training in acting. She’s an icon and a living legend whose high belt has only gotten stronger and better with time. But what fascinates me most about her recent Grammy Awards performance of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina from the musical Evita are the circumstances surrounding it.
As a bona fide diva, LuPone has seen her share of drama (pun intended). She was famously in a decades-long feud with Andrew Lloyd Webber (the composer of Evita) and sued him for breach of contract after the role she originated in London (Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard) went to Glenn Close for the American production. She reportedly received a $1 million settlement, which she used to buy enough tea to spill for decades.
To add injury to insult, the demanding vocals of Sunset Boulevard led to LuPone losing her voice, which required surgery and five months of silent recovery. After that, she had to learn to speak and sing again. When she returned to performing, she brought with her a new technique and a masterful control of her naturally big, brassy voice.
Which brings me back to the Grammys. LuPone’s performance was part of a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber, the last person you’d expect her to honor. Yet she swallowed her pride and buried the proverbial hatchet, making peace after years of fighting. Her performance was described as the greatest of the 2018 Grammys and devoted fans were quick to point out that she sang in the original key, more powerfully and skillfully than when she played the role forty years ago.
The performance may have also had additional significance for LuPone’s fans. Recently she announced that she would be retiring from musical theater, preferring to end that chapter of her career on a high note. This makes her performance of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina especially relevant as it is the song that began her career; it is also about a celebrity assuring her audience that she never left them and will continue to hold them in her heart. Could this have been LuPone’s way of singing her goodbyes to us, choosing to end her musical career with the song that began it?
I think there’s a lot we can learn from Patti LuPone. Many of us, like LuPone, hold justified grudges against those who have wronged us in the past. However, sometimes these grudges keep us from doing the things we want and the things that make us happy. LuPone wouldn’t have had the opportunity to give us such a memorable send off if she hadn’t decided to forgive Andrew Lloyd Webber, and she would have also missed out on all the love her fans gave her for her performance. Sometimes forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves – we let go of old anger and pain to make room for new love and happiness.
More importantly, LuPone shows us that tragedy can be the beginning of something better. After losing her voice, she learned from her mistakes, worked hard, and reinvented herself as an amazing actor with an exceptionally amazing voice. She shows us that it’s okay to stumble as long as we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, correct our mistakes, and try again.
All these lessons apply to us as individuals, but I think they can also apply to us as a society. Movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter are efforts to learn from past mistakes to make a better future. And, if we continue to do the work, the voice of our nation, like LuPone’s, will be stronger and better than ever.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.