Wed. May 29th, 2024

Julie Andrews’ ‘Loverly’ & Totally Unique Recording Legacy

By Michael May 6, 2024

Sixty-eight years ago this week, the original cast album to the Broadway smash My Fair Lady, starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, vaulted from No. 30 to No. 8 in its second week on the Billboard 200. The album logged 173 weeks in the top 10, which set a record which still stands for the longest run in the top 10 since the Billboard 200 began publishing on a regular, weekly basis in March 1956.

The astoundingly good score, composed by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, includes such standards as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “The Rain in Spain” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.”

Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times’ influential theater critic at the time, touted My Fair Lady as “one of the best musicals of the century” – a line that, naturally, was plastered atop the show’s theatrical poster. In most cases, extravagant praise like that would reek of hyperbole. In this case, saying “one of” showed considerable restraint. Name one musical more chock-full of famous and beloved songs.

Incredibly, Andrews played a leading role on three of the eight albums with the most weeks in the top 10. The 1965 soundtrack to The Sound of Music is in fourth place on the all-time list with 109 weeks. The 1961 Broadway cast album to Camelot is tied for seventh place with 87 weeks.

Here’s the top 10 as it currently stands. Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album, which returns to the top 10 on the Billboard 200 this week, is currently in second place.

Weeks in Top 10, Artist, Title, Year First Reached Top 10
173, Original Cast, My Fair Lady, 1956
142, Morgan Wallen, Dangerous: The Double Album, 2021
109, Soundtrack, The Sound of Music, 1965
106, Soundtrack, West Side Story, 1962
105, Original Cast, The Sound of Music, 1960
90, Soundtrack, South Pacific, 1958
87, Original Cast, Camelot, 1961
87, Soundtrack, Oklahoma!, 1956
85, Peter, Paul and Mary, Peter Paul and Mary, 1962
84, Adele, 21, 2011
84, Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A., 1984

Andrews has had a very unique history on the Billboard charts. She starred in two Broadway musicals with cast albums that topped the Billboard 200, as well as two films with soundtracks that topped that chart, but her only album under her own name to make the chart is Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, the soundtrack to a 1962 TV special in which she starred with another future legend, Carol Burnett. It peaked at No. 85.

Andrews has also had only one entry on the Billboard Hot 100, “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” a novelty song from Mary Poppins on which she teamed with Dick Van Dyke and The Pearlies. The tongue-twister single reached No. 66 in 1965.

Andrews had a glorious singing voice, but for some reason it didn’t translate to the pop music world. Still, her work in soundtracks and cast albums can’t be denied.

In 2011, Andrews received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy. She was part of a wildly diverse class that also included country queen Dolly Parton, punk band The Ramones, pop-folk trio The Kingston Trio, gospel singer George Beverly Shea, classical ensemble Juilliard String Quartet and jazz drummer Roy Haynes.

Andrews attended the Special Merit Awards ceremony in Los Angeles to receive her lifetime achievement award on Feb. 12, 2011. Making it even sweeter, the following night, she won a competitive Grammy – her second – best spoken word album for children for Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies. She won the award alongside her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton.

Andrews’ generations-spanning appeal was seen in 2015, when Lady Gaga sang four songs from The Sound of Music score on the Oscars, to mark the film’s 50th anniversary. At the end of her performance, Andrews came out from the wings and embraced her. Gaga introduced with these warm words, “Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable Julie Andrews.”

It was also seen when the American Film Institute unveiled its roster of 25 Greatest Movie Musicals in 2006. Andrews starred in two of the top 10 musicals – The Sound of Music at No. 4 and Mary Poppins at No. 6. Gene Kelly also starred in two of their top 10 musicals (Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris). Judy Garland topped them both, starring in three of the top 10 (The Wizard of Oz, A Star Is Born and Meet Me in St. Louis.) That’s pretty good company.

Andrews is three-quarters of the way to EGOT status. She has won two Emmys, two Grammys (plus that lifetime achievement award) and an Oscar, but has yet to win a Tony, despite three nominations. (Considering that Andrews has appeared on Broadway in only four shows, to have been Tony-nominated three times is a quite a feat.) She appeared to finally be headed for a Tony win in 1996 for her lead role in the Broadway adaptation of Victor/Victoria, but when she was the only person from the show to receive a nomination, she famously declined the nod, telling a matinee audience two days after the nominations were announced: “I have searched my conscience and my heart and find that I cannot accept this nomination, and prefer instead to stand with the egregiously overlooked.”

That rather arch phrasing was mocked, but Andrews’ principled stand was admired. Andrews remained on the ballot, but having signaled disinterest in the award, it was no surprise when she lost to Donna Murphy for The King and I.

Despite that kerfuffle, Andrews remains strongly identified with Broadway. She won a Primetime Emmy in 2005 for hosting Broadway: The American Musical on PBS, which was voted outstanding non-fiction series. She has received two Grammy nominations for best traditional pop vocal performance, both for Broadway collections – Julie Andrews Broadway/Here I’ll Stay (1997) and Julie Andrews – Broadway – the Music of Richard Rodgers (1995).

Andrews has received 11 Primetime Emmy nods, spanning a remarkable 65 years. She received her first in 1958 for actress – best single performance – lead or support for Cinderella; her most recent just last year for outstanding character voice-over performance for Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

Andrews has received a slew of career achievement awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors (2001), a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild Awards (2006) and the American Film Institute’s life achievement award (2022).

Here’s more background on the four No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 on which Andrews played a lead role. They are shown in chronological order:

By Michael

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