NYC landmark celebrates Judy Garland’s 100th birthday in spectacular fashion

Judy Garland in 1945

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Frances Ethel Gumm, known worldwide by her stage name: Judy Garland.

The gay icon died June 22, 1969, at the age of just 47. 

New York City’s Empire State Building will commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth by lighting its upper floors in rainbow lights. Its fins will also glow “ruby red”.

The lighting is in honor of Garland’s status as an LGBTQ icon, and a nod to one of her biggest known songs (‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’) from The Wizard of Oz.

The Empire State Building in New York City is lit with rainbow colors to mark Pride Month
The Empire State Building in New York City is lit with rainbow colors to mark New York Pride (Photo: Empire State Building)

Rainbow colors bathe the Empire State Building to mark Pride Month each June. However, this is the first time Garland’s birthday has specifically prompted such a display.

Lorna Luft and Rufus Wainwright pay tribute

Lorna Luft and Rufus Wainwright at the top of the Empire State Building

On Tuesday evening, the building welcomed one of Garland’s daughters, singer Lorna Luft, and Grammy-nominated songwriter Rufus Wainwright, a devoted Garland fan, for a special performance. 

Luft and Wainwright sang a rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, and Luft flipped a switch to turn on the lights on a model of the building. Tomorrow (June 10), the real building will itself light up from sunset. Also in attendance were Kurt Kelly, owner of the Stonewall Inn, and Stacy Lenz of the Stonewall Gives Back initiative.

Watch Luft and Wainwright perform ‘Over The Rainbow’ below. It was only the third time in her career that Luft has performed the song.

Judy Garland and New York City

Luft gave a moving speech about what New York meant to her mother. 

“My mother loved this city. She loved New York. And she always used to say ‘I’m running away to New York’ when she had a break from MGM. She never went to Europe. She never went anywhere else but New York. And I always said to her, ‘Why are we going to New York?’ And she said, ‘That’s where I can be myself.’

“I said, ‘I don’t really know what you mean.’ She said, ‘Well, in Hollywood, I have to be Judy Garland. But in New York, I can just be Judy.’ And she said, ‘Let me show you what I mean.’

“I must have been about five years old,” continued Luft. “She said, ‘Let’s go for a walk’. And as we went for a walk, all of a sudden, this wonderful, very large, great New York City policeman came up and said, ‘We love you, Judy!’ And then the cab driver started, and then the bus driver started. They all started yelling, ‘We love you, Judy!’ 

“And she said [to me], ‘Now do you see what I mean?’ 

Lorna Luft at the Empire State Building to mark the 100th birthday of her mom, Judy Garland
Lorna Luft receives a commemorative model of the Empire State Building (Photo: Empire State Building)

“But the one thing I remember, more so than anything, was being around 4 or 5 years old. We were coming into this city. And right as we made the turn—and my mother always said this—she’d say, ‘Look, there’s the Empire State Building!’ And I remember that forever.”

She finished by saying how honored she felt to, “light this iconic, legendary building for an iconic, legendary woman.”

“Hardship and hope for a kinder, gentler world”

Jean-Yves Ghazi, president of the Empire State Building Observatory, said, “The Empire State Building has long been considered an authentic symbol of hope and endless possibilities. Judy Garland’s legacy is built on resilience amid hardship and hope for a kinder, gentler world. We are honored to celebrate this legacy and sentiment through one-of-a-kind experiences for our fans in the heart of New York City.”

If you happen to be in New York, look out for the special lighting at the Empire State Building. If you fancy visiting the observatory, for two days only, it will be selling a new, limited edition ESB x Judy Garland scent. “Cosmetic Chemist” Vincenzo Spinnato developed the fragrance with Judy’s children: Lorna, Joey Luft, and Liza Minnelli. 

Celebrating 100 years of Judy Garland

Judy Garland (1922 – 1969), circa 1945. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Away from New York City, expect commemorations of Judy’s birthday at several other locations. These include:

  • The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a weekend of events lined up. 
  • Garland impersonator Debbie Wileman brings “Judy – A Musical Celebration,” to the Catalina Jazz Club, Los Angeles, June 10-11.
  • The Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, where Garland’s grave is located, will host a special screening of The Wizard of Oz. It takes place Sunday (12th), along with a tour highlighting the resting places of people who worked with her.
  • Turner Classic Movies will be airing 12 classic Garland movies on June 10. 

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