Elaine Stritch died today, July 17, 2014, at the age of 89. A life-force and supreme show business pro, she sang "I'm Still Here" for so many years, and now, shockingly, she suddenly isn't. She was one of those rare artists who have given the world performances that are indelible. Once you have heard Stritch dig her way into a Sondheim song, say, you will never get it out of your head ever. For me, getting Elaine Stritch to sing "The Ladies Who Lunch" was all Stephen Sondheim needed to do to ensure his immortality as a songwriter. There is an amazing DA Pennebaker documentary about the recording of the original 1970 Broadway cast album to Company that is well worth viewing in its entirety. Here is a watchable YouTube copy of the film focussing on the struggle to record Stritch's version of "Ladies." The sequence begins about 1:50 minutes into the first clip and carries through to the end of the second. This is one of the great examples showing how hard it can be to make great art, and how rewarding it can be to finally succeed.
I had the chance to see one of her very late live performances at Disney Hall in Los Angeles in 2012, and while her voice was sometimes uncertain and she kept forgetting the lyrics, she was very much a presence onstage. I felt much the same as I did when I finally got to see Nina Simone sing in person: for anyone who believes in art as a force in the world, these were visits to the shrine.