The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #161: Send In The Clowns by Judy Collins (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #161: Send in the Clowns by Judy Collins.

In all of our talk about which songs constitute the greatest songs of all-time, there has been a woeful omission of an entire category of music…..and that omission has been concerning Broadway show tunes. Some of the most memorable and inspiring songs every recorded came from atop the stages of “The Great White Way”, along with music halls, community theatres and school gymnasiums all over the world. I was reminded of this gaping hole in our countdown with the recent passing of Broadway Titan, Stephen Sondheim. If you follow musicals at all then, chances are reasonably good that, somewhere along the way, you have been entertained and moved by his work. If you do not follow the Broadway scene, I am still confident that you have heard of musicals such as “West Side Story” (which was based upon the play, “Romeo and Juliet”), “Sweeney Todd”, “Into the Woods” (which is based upon memorable fairy tale characters), “Sunday in the Park with George” (which is based upon the famous pointillistic painting by George Seurat), “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and, “A Little Night Music” (from which our song of the day, “Send in the Clowns” is from). Stephen Sondheim won 8 Tony Awards, 8 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, the Pulitzer Prize and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. Sondheim was 91 years old when he passed away peacefully.

I don’t remember much about my parents when it came to their musical tastes. But, one thing that I remember is that they had several albums or original cast recordings of musicals such as “South Pacific”, “Camelot”, “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man”, just to name a few. I grew up listening to songs such as “76 Trombones” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and many others. All of the songs had big, orchestral sounds…all sung by the people we viewed as the stars of the day such as Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave, Mary Martin and so on. Being Canadian, the first musical performance I saw live was, “Anne of Green Gables”. In high school, we put on “Guys and Dolls”, along with “Oklahoma”. So, in many ways, musical storytelling has been a part of my life since forever so, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Leah is growing up to love musicals such as “Hamilton”, “Momma Mia” and “Come From Away”, too.

In the last half century, many of the musicals we love have been touched, in some way by Stephen Sondheim; whether as a lyricist, a composer, a producer or as a mentor to modern-day stars such as Lin Manual Miranda (to whom Sondheim gave advice on “Hamilton” before Miranda ever began production), as well as, the recently deceased Jonathon Larson (known for producing “Rent”, along with the Netflix show, “Tick, Tick….Boom!”).

Sondheim apprenticed under the direction of the legendary Oscar Hammerstein and was writing musicals in his early twenties (when I was still learning to properly do my own laundry). He was never afraid to tackle emotional subject matter nor, to score his plays with non-traditional songs or orchestral structures. But, regardless of how he did what he did, a Stephen Sondheim musical was always something special. It is not surprising that he is most remembered for the song, “Send in the Clowns”, as that is one of the very few songs of his that was “Pop-worthy”. It made stars out of singers such as Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and many others. That “Send in the Clowns” was one of the few popular songs of his is not a criticism at all. In fact, it should give you some indication of how innovative his material was and how perfectly suited it was to his medium of choice, the stage.

In any event, Broadway has lost a champion who always believed in the power of storytelling through song. Consequently, it was not surprising that he was eulogized in song, out on Broadway in NYC by as many musical stars as were available to attend. *I shall post that video in the comments below. For now, here is Judy Collins with one of the songs that comprise the Gold Standard for musicals, “Send in the Clowns” from the Stephen Sondheim musical, “A Little Night Music”. And with that, the spotlight dims, the curtains draw to a close and Mr. Sondheim exits the stage forever.

The link to the video for the song, “Send In The Clowns”, as performed by Judy Collins, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Send In The Clowns”, as sung on Broadway in NYC by those wishing to pay their respects on the occasion of Stephen Sondheim’s passing, can be found here.

The official website for Stephen Sondheim, can be found here.

The official website for Judy Collins, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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