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JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala


JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala

In celebration of John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday on May 29, 2017, JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala opens a window into the glamour and excitement that descended on the nation’s capital for his 1961 inauguration, with a never-before-seen musical event: the Pre-Inaugural Gala produced by and starring Frank Sinatra. It was a star-studded musical celebration videotaped for national broadcast with performances by Sinatra, Ethel Merman, Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Gene Kelly and more. But a colossal blizzard knocked out power in DC, and those show-stopping performances remained in the vaults — until now. 

Scheduled to be broadcast the following week, the gala featured top Hollywood celebrities and some of the greatest musical performers of the era, which was all part of the plan according to Vanity Fair contributing editor Todd Purdum. “One of the goals of this gala was to basically declare that with this new administration the arts were going to have a new and more prominent, more important role in American political life,” he said. “President Kennedy was saying, ‘Yeah, there’s a new breeze. And we are looking at culture in our country in a different way, and it’s an exciting way.”

Producer and host Frank Sinatra, at the peak of his fame, used his considerable influence and power to draw the nation’s top  talent, even convincing producer Leland Hayward to close two shows on Broadway so Ethel Merman and Laurence Olivier could participate. Sinatra also made a point of featuring African American artists at the gala — Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole — signaling a more inclusive administration and a new era in the U.S.

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