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JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala

JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala

Thursday, June 1, at 9 p.m.
Repeats Friday, June 2, at 12:30 a.m.

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 the District of Columbia and those show-stopping performances remained in the vaults—until now.

Scheduled to be broadcast on NBC the following week, the gala featured top Hollywood celebrities and some of the greatest musical performers of the era. However, on the day of the event, Jan. 19, 1961, the blizzard arrived. Many of the performers were stuck in the cavernous National Armory rehearsing all day, unable to rest or change clothes for the evening. The storm knocked out most of the electricity in Washington, although a few generators powered the minimal lights and cameras necessary to tape the production. In the end, it was decided not to broadcast the program.

Now those magical performances can be seen, including Nat King Cole on “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and a poignant “Stardust”; Ella Fitzgerald on “Give Me the Simple Life”; Harry Belafonte’s “When the Saints Go Marching In”; and Sinatra on both “You Make Me Feel So Young” and a heartfelt “The House I Live In.” Phylicia Rashad hosts this special presentation.

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