Meeting Betty Buckley

Photo by Robert Rosen.

When I spoke to Betty Buckley for the interview (see my 9/25 post), we discussed our middle names, as hers is the same as mine except for an extra “n.” (Her mom is Betty Bob and her dad is Ernest Lynn; my aunt is Mary Emma and my mom is Floy Lyn. These are all Texans!) Betty was delightful to talk to—candid and down-to-earth, with a joie de vivre always kind of bubbling beneath. After the interview, she kindly invited me to come to one of her October Joe’s Pub shows in New York.

My husband, Robert Rosen, and I went to the show last Wednesday. We were lucky to be sitting at one of the tables close to the stage; I could see the emotional play on Betty’s face as she sang—she is both a consummate actress and singer. She did mostly songs from her new CD, Ghostlight, and I was especially moved by her live renditions of “Throw It Away,” by Abbey Lincoln, and “If You Go Away,” by Jacques Brel with English lyrics by Rod McKuen. Bob loved her interpretation of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Come On, Come On,” which Betty said was her favorite of all songs (quite a tribute to Ms. Carpenter!). Betty, who is teaching a master class at the T. Schreiber Studio this week, credits meditation for helping her in life and in her work, and it’s not only her powerful voice that’s so affecting when you hear her sing but also her tremendous depth. When her hand clutched her abdomen, her “gut,” you almost felt she was digging for more, turning herself inside-out for the audience.

And then I got to meet her! Bob and I joined her and her friends at the Library, the restaurant at the Public Theater, which houses Joe’s Pub. We also met her assistant, Cathy Brighenti, and her “Cats” castmates from more than 30 years ago, Donna King and Bob Hoshour, the Bombalurina and Tumblebrutus to her Grizabella (of “Memory” fame). At one point Donna mentioned that the Sam Smith song coming over the restaurant speakers was written and produced by her son, adding that her daughter is both a math “brainiac” and a standup comedian. Interesting crowd! Betty and Cathy spoke of the 17 rescue animals living on Betty’s Texas ranch, including a one-eyed dog they seemed especially fond of. (Betty loves horses and has won cutting-horse competitions.) Betty asked Bob (Rosen, that is) about his latest book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography—she seemed intrigued! She also expressed dismay at the cake icing that had gotten on her shirt when she walked through the crowd to take the stage (“And I was so proud of my pink shirt!”).

What an elegant, lovely person. And a true singer’s singer. (I’ve said that about Linda Ronstadt too, whom I interviewed around this time last year; both she and Betty have given much thought and devotion to the craft and the art of singing.)

A PS for singers: Even Betty Buckley makes mistakes, starting in the wrong key for “Bewitched” during her show. Charmingly, referring to the previous song, Marty Balin’s “Comin’ Back to Me,” she explained, “I was so into the rock ‘n‘ roll!” Nevertheless, she smoothly performed the subtle modulation between the intro and the first verse in her bewitching version of “Bewitched.”

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