Betty Buckley: 1967
- Disc 1
Had American Idol been around in 1967, there is no doubt that Ryan Seacrest’s predecessor would have announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, your American Idol for 1967 is Betty Lynn Buckley.”
Few, in fact, have ever boasted a voice like the one the former Miss Fort Worth 1966 possesses. It is a singular voice that has wowed audiences and dazzled critics around the world. There are the rich, vibrato-filled chest tones — that powerful Broadway belt with its seemingly unending range for which she is most associated. And, then there is her upper register, an ethereal soprano that is as emotionally powerful as her biggest belt.
This theatre writer has been an ardent admirer of Buckley and her many talents for over two decades, and when I learned several years ago that Buckley had recorded an unreleased album in her youth, I began a quest to obtain a copy of, or even to have the privilege of listening to, that mysterious recording. I even penned a letter to legendary producer Rodger H. Hess — the former agent who hoped to sign Buckley after seeing her as a guest performer on the 1967 Miss America pageant and the one person I knew who possessed the ’67 recording.
Flash forward to 2007, and Playbill Records — working in conjunction with Sony BMG Masterworks Broadway — signs the Tony®-winning artist to its label. In addition to releasing her newest recording, Quintessence, the star of Cats, Sunset Boulevard and Drood agreed to allow Playbill Records a chance to listen to the 1967 recording. My publisher, Philip Birsh, is a pretty cool character, yet there was no denying the excitement in his voice when he called me one afternoon to play — over the phone — a selection from the early Buckley recording. In fact, he was so taken with the recording that he played me lengthy sections from each of the recording’s eleven tracks.
A few days after that phone call, I received a copy of the recording, and I immediately rushed to the Chelsea apartment of my friend Tod — another loyal Buckley enthusiast — and we shared an evening to remember, simply reveling in the innocence and exuberance of Buckley’s youthful tones. It is indeed a rarity when something one has waited years for lives up to expectations, but I can say, without any reservations whatsoever, that Betty Buckley 1967 was worth the wait. The recording, which you now (or are about to) hold in your very hands (!), is the earliest professional recording of Buckley that exists, and it reveals a voice whose beauty is second to none.
From the moment the recording begins — with Bye Bye Birdie’s “One Boy” — one can’t help being uplifted by the joyous sounds of Buckley’s voice. Just listen to the ease with which the notes pour out of her, or the way she effortlessly switches from bigger sounds to more gentle ones. She may have only been 19, but Buckley was already imbuing her singing with an actress’ sensibilities, and her phrasing and musicality were well beyond her years (check out her wonderful version of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”).
Even her song list is surprisingly eclectic for a teenager: a mix of Broadway ballads, standards, pop songs and even a tune in Spanish. Picking a favorite is nearly impossible. Would it be her sly “C’est Magnifique,” her free-spirited “Call Me,” a lilting “They Were You,” the utterly charming “My Funny Valentine,” the belty “Who Can I Turn To?” or “I Wanna Be Free” with all its pure, innocent ache? I am also particularly fond of Buckley’s “Quando Calienta El Sol.” When she switches from Spanish to English, her joy in singing the lyric “Love me with all of your heart, that’s all I want love!” is utterly contagious. And when this young woman sings, “When I give my heart, it will be completely” (in “When I Fall In Love”), there is no doubt it is as sincere a statement as it is beautifully sung. In fact, listening to these eleven tracks back to back, it is no wonder Buckley landed her first Broadway role (Martha Jefferson in 1776) during her first Broadway audition on her very first day in Manhattan.
I’ve always felt that the Tony®-winning Cats star, one of the finest singing actresses that the Broadway musical theatre has ever produced, approaches her material with the skill of a masterful painter. She is wholly unconcerned with renditions of songs that have come before her own and comes to each as an artist would a blank canvas, bringing her unique gifts to the lyric and melody at hand. If an artist has a palette of colors to choose from, Buckley has her own enormous array of vocal colors. There’s aquamarine, azure, indigo, navy, royal, sapphire and turquoise, and that’s only for singin’ the blues. There are also the velvety browns of her chest voice, the smooth soft yellows of her head tones, the off-whites of her whispers, the dark black of her growls and the soaring, fiery reds of her wide-ranging belt. Yet, it is not just the voice that creates such magic, it is her consummate acting skills as well as her intelligent choice of material. Like a pointillistic painting, all these elements somehow combine to form a masterwork, and audiences can’t help but become mesmerized by the world of her artistry. That artistry may have been in its early stages in 1967, but the seeds of her magic are all there in this old, but thrillingly new recording. So, sit back, put on a pair of bell bottoms, light some incense and enjoy Betty Buckley 1967.
Senior Editor, Playbill
Betty Lynn Buckley
Philip S. Birsh &
Recorded and Engineered
by T Bone Burnett (in 1967)
Mastered by: Fred Kevorkian (in 2007)
Kevorkian Mastering, Inc.
Avatar Studios, New York
Al Schmitt and Tino Passante