Judy Brubaker, a cabaret performer and actress whose singing voice thrilled Provincetown audiences for many years, died in Bath, Maine on Nov. 15, 2020. She was 96.
Judy was born on May 22, 1924 in Little Rock, Ark. to Orin Brubaker and Martha Trafford and raised in Detroit, where, as a 10-year-old, she began to sing on Uncle Nick’s Kiddie Hour on WJLB radio. Years later, she was runner-up in the Miss Michigan contest. When her only brother was killed in 1944 in World War II, Judy joined the Women’s Army Corps and sang with Army bands.
After the war, she studied at the Actors’ Laboratory of Hollywood and was a protégé of songwriter Jimmy McHugh, who gave her a three-year contract. Judy worked as a script distributor at the 20th Century Fox movie lot, where, one day, she met Marilyn Monroe, who invited her to sit and talk, thus beginning a sweet ongoing acquaintance.
Judy appeared as a Tri Gam Coed in Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949) and under the name “Judith Trafford” in The Lovable Cheat (1949) and Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (1949) with Donald O’Connor and Gloria DeHaven. A sultry photo shoot for the Hollywood Reporter led to a brief and memorable experience with Howard Hughes. In 1951, she appeared in the film Chicago Calling, and in 1952 she was Valdra in the camp cinema classic Untamed Women.
Judy moved to Chicago, where she performed as a cabaret singer at Mr. Kelly’s The Trip Lounge. She appeared in Steve Starr’s long-running musical revue Vanities in Chicago and St. Louis with Sally Rand, the ostrich-feather fan dancer. Judy created the role of Miss Lynch in the musical Grease (1972-73) prior to its move to Broadway. In New York, she sang at Un Deux Trois, the Ballroom, and The Bushes at the Park Royal Hotel. Judy also became a highly regarded furniture restorer and interior designer.
Judy first visited Provincetown in the 1970s; it became her summer home. She appeared as Paula Strasberg in Norman Mailer’s Strawhead and studied painting with Henry Hensche. She befriended Provincetown’s piano players and began to sing in local venues. She became a beloved chanteuse for more than a dozen years in the Great Music on Sundays @5 concert series at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, where, in 2009, she was honored with the first of the annual “Broadway Baby” events.
Judy always brought down the house at the annual Celebration of Life concert in early September. Every year, she received a standing ovation. In 2016, nine music videos, available on YouTube, were filmed to create an archive of her performances.
Thousands of fans and friends looked forward to seeing and hearing Judy in Provincetown, in piano bars, on concert stages, and on the street. Her singing voice was crystal clear and perfectly nuanced through all her years; she attributed it to a lifetime of abstinence from smoking. Her impish humor and charm, combined with her total commitment to every song, were enchanting. Her sheer longevity proved that a creative life can be a full life.
Judy is survived by Pam Pauly, her spouse and partner for more than 50 years, who said, “Judy seized the day.” Now, she’s singing with the angels.
Donations in Judy’s memory may be made to Great Music on Sundays @5, UUMH, P.O. Box 817, Provincetown 02657.