If there is any tension among Supreme Court justices as they tackle the tough pending cases of their current term, it was nowhere to be seen Wednesday afternoon at the court's spring musicale.
As they have off and on since 1988, justices took time off for an afternoon to bask in top-notch musical performances by internationally known artists in the court's East Conference Room. Usually, the talent is drawn from the classical and operatic world. But the justices have also heard memorable jazz and cabaret-style performances by the likes of Bobby Short and Marian McPartland.
Wednesday's performance may have topped them all, with renowned cabaret and concert singer Barbara Cook making an appearance, backed up by famed jazz sidemen including guitarist John Pizzarelli. Pizzarelli's wife Jessica Molaskey was the warm-up singer before Cook performed. In introducing the ensemble, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called Pizzarelli "incomparably cool." Ginsburg, perhaps the court's greatest music fan ever, has presided over the musicales since 2002, taking over from Sandra Day O'Connor who had picked up after the departure of the tradition's founder, Justice Harry Blackmun.
In addition to Ginsburg and O'Connor, the justices on hand were Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Elena Kagan. Other notable guests included the Italian ambassador to the United States Claudio Bisogniero, and local television weatherman Bob Ryan.
All seemed relaxed and captivated as the 85-year-old Cook, who was suffering from a virus, according to Ginsburg, hit all the right notes and chatted amiably with the audience in between songs. She sang classics ranging from Bye Bye Blackbird to Let's Fall in Love, and I've Got Rhythm. With justices just a few feet away, she even sang Makin' Whoopee, the song made famous by Eddie Cantor that touches on themes not usually associated with the Supreme Court. Cook brought down the house with an emotional rendition of John Lennon's famous song Imagine.
Roberts closed the event by thanking the musicians and noting that Hoagy Carmichael, some of whose songs had just been sung, grew up in Indiana and studied to be a lawyer, as did Cole Porter. Roberts left unsaid the obvious: that he too grew up in Indiana and studied the law.