Immersed in 1961, America and the world around it was beginning to change. The Kennedys had replaced the Eisenhowers in the White House. The surge of rock and roll in the late 1950s had lost a bit of momentum, and while blues, jazz and country all evolved significantly within their given niches, popular music was still at an awkward pause, stuck between the past and the future. Resultingly, the best-selling album of 1961 was another Broadway soundtrack. This year, it was another production from Allen Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who had realized great success four years prior with “My Fair Lady”. This year’s release was “Camelot”, based on the legend of King Arthur.
Not unlike “My Fair Lady”, I found the overall collection of songs to be pleasant, if not particularly memorable. The one true moment of musical distinction of this album is the star-studded cast. Featuring Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall, and the debut of Robert Goulet, the true star of this production, like most she appeared in, was the remarkable Julie Andrews. While Mary Martin performed admirably in the Broadway version of “The Sound of Music”, there is no match for the classic elegance and amazingly pure tone of Julie Andrews. Like many other performances, she is simply stunning in her performances on this soundtrack.
Most American history followers recognize the references to Camelot, hinted at by Jacqueline Kennedy, as the perfect label to attach to her attempt to resurrect social grace and formal protocol for the White House following the Midwest simplicity of Mamie & Dwight Eisenhower. I learned in reading about this production that not only was Camelot the vision of historical austerity aspired to by the Kennedy White House, President Kennedy was in fact a big fan of this soundtrack, and actually studied at Harvard with Allen Lerner. It has been said JFK was particularly fond of a verse from the final song, as King Arthur passes his torch to the next generation…
“Don’t let it be forgot, That once there was a spot.”
“For one brief, shining moment, That was known as Camelot.”