Not Past It - Where Are My Background Singers?


This past Sunday night, December 5th, CBS broadcasted.

The nation’s 99th.

Annual National Christmas tree, lighting.


It was a pretty tame wholesome event a moment to welcome in the holiday season hosted by LL Cool.



It featured musical performances from the likes of Billy Porter.

Her and none other than the one and only miss Patty.


Good friend, a beautiful person in one of the greatest singers of our time, Patti LaBelle Patti.


LaBelle an artist known for her powerful voice and Soulful tone.

Absolutely nailed her performance.

Not a note off, not a lyric out of place.

And some ways, this was Redemption way back in 1996 Patty performed at this exact same event.


And let’s just say it didn’t go.

So well, Patty was front and center, but the singers behind her were missing her cue cards were out of sorts.

It was, I mean, let’s not mince words here, a train wreck.


But you know who loves a Trainwreck be internet baby, which is why a video of this performance has become an absolute viral sensation, millions of views on YouTube.

Since it was posted in 2016 gifts Galore endless Twitter chatter, especially each year when the holidays roll around.


Why this annual Resurrection?

Well, I’ve come to believe it’s because it’s the perfect Christmas Story.

From gimlet media.


This is not past it a show about the stories.

We can’t quite leave behind every episode.

We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.

I’m Simone pollen on 25 years ago.


This week on December 5th. 1996, Patti LaBelle took the stage at the National Christmas tree.

Lighting ceremony in Washington, DC.

And so much went awry.

What exactly happened that day.


Where were Patti LaBelle’s background singers?

What was up with those Hugh cards?

And why are we still talking about it?

Get ready?

Because this is prestigious journalism.

I’m not told to Stone.

I never talked about The untold story behind a beloved holiday.



That’s coming up.

I am recording.

I will also say that in the spirit of this.


I don’t have a mic stand but I do have a box of Christmas wrapping paper and it is holding up my Mike.

Oh nice sighs.

Well, thanks for coming on.


Can you please tell the people who you are?

My name is Julie Carly and I am a producer for the greatest and most glorious most adorable podcast in the World not past it.


Not past it producer.

Julie Carly is a passionate woman.

She loves stand-up comedy, Lush bath bombs and perhaps most of all this video of Patti LaBelle at the 1996, national Christmas tree, lighting ceremony.


Let’s actually talk about the video because I imagine there are some Poor Unfortunate Souls out there who have never actually seen it.

Tell us about what happens in this famed.

Patti, LaBelle.


Yeah, like will do a play-by-play like they do.


Yeah, let’s break it down.


So the video starts, we have an All-Star lineup tonight joining with the president and the first lady to celebrate our national Christmas tree lighting.

We have this man, who’s in this, like, brown trench coat.


He’s looking like the proper 1990s, white, dude, Clark Griswold type of man on stage, and he’s introducing Patty, ladies and And we are privileged to have as our special honored guest this evening, the dynamic Patti LaBelle, but like as he’s introducing her, she must have liked heard her name and like, come out on stage early.



Right, and she like pops out and it’s like super awkward and then she like, quickly Duck’s back.

So it’s like from the beginning.

This thing is like falling apart, but the trenchcoat guy does eventually introduced her properly.

Here’s the thing.


This Christmas is Patti.



She walks out.

Let’s just say this.

She looks great.

She is her hair is done.

Makeup is outstanding.


She’s in some sort of like beautiful purple gown, is it silk?

Is it satin?

I don’t know what it is, but it’s gorgeous.

She’s so cute.

Oh my gosh.

And then the song starts the, the eyes, the eyes like the full side.


I she noticed there’s obviously something immediately wrong and then when she starts to sing, they suddenly cut to this wide shot and you see that she’s totally alone on the stage.

She’s like on this huge stage and they’re these risers behind her, and it’s like, clearly, they’re supposed to be like, at least a few other people up there.


With her.

And then she continues to sing and she gets the first verse down which is let’s all hang all the mistletoe.

She gets that that’s fine.


This Christmas.

I’m bad at the iconic line.

Where my where my background singers.

Whoo, as if that’s a lyric.

Then she calls out to whoever is holding her cue cards.


Because apparently she doesn’t have the right lyrics.

She’s trying so hard.

She’s trying so hard to keep going.

And she’s really, she’s sort of like expressing her distress in The Melody of this Christmas, which is beautiful.


Yeah, that’s basically the vibe for the rest of the video.

It’s just like pure chaos.

It’s just absolutely outstanding stuff.

What do you feel when when you’re watching this video horror Joy mixed with horror mixed with one got feelings when you watch this video.


Oh man.

I’m in for me.

It’s just unbridled Joy.

It’s just It’s just so funny.

I mean, you gotta love disasters, right?

It accomplishes in a minute and 30 seconds.

What so many filmmakers have tried to accomplish in the world of Cinema.


Over the years, with regards to Christmas movies.

I’m talking National Lampoon’s, Christmas Vacation.

I’m talking the Grinch.

I’m talking A Christmas Story.

We have this idea of Christmas.

We’re trying to achieve something great, but it’s a disaster from top to bottom.

You know, the movies she’s talking about where everything that could go wrong does, but they usually end with everything tied up in a neat little bow and some holiday cheer but this video has no bo it just kind of ends and leaves the viewer with a lot of questions.


This is burdensome.

This hurts me in my soul in my heart.

So in the spirit of Christmas, we at not past it, want to wrap this thing up by answering a very basic question.


What happened to figure out what in the merry Christmas happened that day, Julie and the team at not past it went on a wild months-long search into the bowels of the internet, the federal government and the recording industry where to even begin.


Well, with Patty, of course you have reached the office of w and W Julie called parties, publicist, and also her manager and Patty didn’t want to talk kind of a bummer, but maybe not the biggest surprise.


She probably had a Legends Ball to go to.

Anyways, next Julie started looking for Clues.

You start.

At the place where all things need to be started the source material and my source material is C-SPAN.

Julia re-watch the video for probably the thousandth time and she spotted a name right away, The Only Name on screen other than patties.


It was the guy who introduced her, you know, Brown trench, coat Clark, Griswold Vibes.

His name is John Beckel, an email and a missed call later, Julie.

This is John.

That’s cool.

I don’t know where you are.


But you got my phone number, which is one step further than you were when you sent me that email about the 1996 Christmas tree lighting.

Ceremony by now, John lives in Ohio.

He’s retired.


Most recently from GE, but he told us the ghosts of his more distant past keep coming back every year.

I mean, every year since that went viral, During the month of December, I get phone calls from people who I haven’t seen for a long, long time.


And I know right away or why they’re calling those people.

They’re calling John for the same reason.

We’re calling John.

Well, maybe for answers at the time of the Patty incident in 96, John was heading up the Christmas.


Pageant of Peace a week’s long holiday celebration in d.c.

Managed by the federal government.

A big part of that job was running the National Christmas tree lighting.

Ceremony started in 1923 by good old Calvin Coolidge.


It’s become an annual event where you guessed it.

They light the nation’s Christmas tree.

It’s essentially an opportunity for the president to ring in the holiday season, and it’s a huge event.

People came from all over the country, and Really all over the world with so many embassies in Washington with their families.


And it was a very cheerful gay beating place.

It was the pageant is televised, just one way in which the event has evolved, it grew from being, just a small event.

When people would come together and light the tree and to an event that began to attract entertainers who volunteered their time and talent to be part of the ceremony.



Okay, so it was clear that John would have at least some answers for us, which we’ll get to patients, but he was just one man.

With one vantage point.

We wanted a fuller picture, a whole cast of characters if you will, so Julie, kept digging, you have reached the William J Clinton Presidential Library research.


That is States.

Secret Service.

Please listen to the following Julie.

Eventually got a Hold of someone at the Library of Congress, and they told her to check out the Army Band, which led us to this guy, right morning world.


My name is Trent Reese and I was the former ncoic of the United States Army band, ncoic, noncommissioned officer in charge Trent, race held that title during his time with the Army Band.


Known as pershing’s own.

I was in charge of the stage crew doing that.

I don’t want to say faithful year of the 1996 Christmas tree lighting, honoring William, J Clinton, this Army Band would be accompanying.


All the musical acts and Trent Reese was the stage manager that day responsible for all the band’s equipment.

The audio visual connections, basically making sure the event lived up to the Army’s.

Sure of excellence.

And that the performance went off without a hitch, which meant a lot to Trent, especially once he found out Patti would be performing.


I would describe.

Patty is an artist that brought through her voice.

The type of, wow, that the Beatles did getting off the plane, and I have seen her in concert a number of times and nowhere near the stage.


Did I get But for it to come to fruition that I actually am working with Patty and standing next to him and adjusting a microphone.

Just hearing that name.

We weren’t talking about just any artist named Patty could have came in and sneezed and she would have got a round of applause.


In case it’s not abundantly clear, Trent’s a massive Patty fan.

He has fond memories of bumping her music in the 70s, by that point.

She had already fronted a couple girl groups and released one of her most iconic.

Hits Lady.


Marmalade, you know, voulez-vous coucher.

Avec moi.

Anyways from there.

She struck out on her own as a solo artist and saw her star continued to rise through the 80s and 90s at the time of the 96 ceremony, You could argue Patti was at her height.


More than ten, Studio albums, released won Grammy under her belt.

She was about to win.

Another Trent was delighted to be in her presence, Patti.

LaBelle is in your military building, the concept that you’re comfortable.


You’re at home Patti.

LaBelle’s coming to your house with a sweet potato pie.

Okay, so with our cast of characters in place, John Trent Patty, it’s finally Showtime.


It was a hurry up in weight day on December 5th. 1996.

Trent had his hands full.

Making sure everything was set for the performance, which is always a little more complicated when the president and the Secret Service are involved.


You have filters of security and steps procedures.

After 2:00 in the afternoon, in the last rehearsal.

The area was cordoned.


Snipers on the roof.

It’s locked down.

There was a pretty big area.


They had to secure the tree.

Lighting ceremony took place on the ellipse that big stretch of Green, Lawn South of the White House next to the tree, still waiting to be lit, was a huge stage with seats for VIPs John bitch.


Call the guy in Trench coat was backstage, feeling excited.

It was just the kind of day when you look forward for perfect evening and just felt like, nothing could go wrong, right?

When the event was supposed to get started.


John noticed one, VIP in particular, wasn’t in his seat.

The president was late coming down to the ellipse, and that was nothing.

Unusual for Bill.

Clinton to go somewhere and be late.


It’s true.

Bill Clinton was notoriously late, but this event was about to go live on TV.

His tardiness was a real problem.

We were obliged to start the tree lighting ceremony precisely at 5:00 because it was telecast nationally and we really had to get started on time.


So when the president Wasn’t there.

The producer of The Pageant told me to go out and start the program.

So, I did, I walked out on the stage.

Welcome to the 1996 Christmas, Pageant teeth the president and the first lady as, you know, live just up the street.


They don’t have much trouble with the traffic lights so we can count on them being here, shortly backstage, and even bigger problem was brewing stage manager.

Trent Reese was freaking out.

Patty’s musical director had approached him with a concern.


Patty’s background singers.

All three of them were nowhere to be found.

You’re not on site.

So now mild Panic.

It’s almost Showtime.

We’ve got no backup singer, but the show had to go on like John was already on stage starting the program and I said to the audience, this is a great night.


We’ve got a terrific.

Why not put people.

So then I introduced Patti LaBelle here to sing.

This Is Christmas is Patti.

LaBelle welcome.

And I went backstage from backstage, John watched as Patty fumbled through the opening of the song.


Where in the h e double hockey sticks were her background singers.

Well, John was about to find out the Patti LaBelle backup singers were out in the area.


Behind the stage which was the area where the president was to arrive.

And when the president arrived, the Secret Service agents who are very very very, very efficient Froze, that area and backup singers.


Couldn’t leave to go out on the stage because of Bill Clinton’s laid ass ass, everything was frozen.

The security detail had to clear the area for him to enter the facility and create a secure Corridor for him to get to his seat.


In the meantime.

All other movements were frozen.

The backup.

Singers were caught in this mess held up by security somewhere backstage.

And when your show hits a snag as big as this one, there’s really only one person up for the job.


The stage manager Trent Reese.

Well, number one thing you do is stay calm and think through.

So you can persevere track was working feverishly to get the backup singers through security and onto the stage.


So, now, I’m going to do my best Johnnie Cochran routine and talk them through security.

You can picture Johnnie Cochran defending o.j.

In that early 1990s, courtroom pacing around, delivering persuasion and and Charisma in tandem.


That was Trent In This Moment smooth-talking these random secret service members.

Meanwhile, John was there backstage when the president finally arrived.

Well, thanks for showing up.


You looked at the monitor.

I’ll never forget what he said because it was right to the point.

He said, what’s going on here?

Because of course, the missing backup singers.


Weren’t the only reason Patti was flailing.

There was the other missing piece in this chaotic puzzle.

Those pesky cue cards.

Who in the world, could possibly tell us the story behind this epic failure.


Leave it to producer.

Julie Carly.

I found the cue card man.

He is Is my crown jewel?

After the break, the cue card man.

Finally finds the right words to explain what the hell happened.


Okay, Patty fans.

Let’s do a recap.

We learned a few important things on our quest to find out what happened that day on that stage in 1996.

Bill Clinton was late.

The backup, singers were frozen and an avalanche of Secret Service.


Trent Reese was trying to get them out on stage, and that cue card guy was in one hell of a pickle, 20 years.

I’ve never been involved in a show with the Army Band where everything that could go wrong. 30 seconds did Todd, Collier the cue card man was also a member of pershing’s own Army Band.


He says Patti didn’t tell the band.

She needed help with lyrics until pretty late in the game.

She was really don’t do that song.

It’s not part of my regular repertoire.

Patty was asked to sing this Christmas because she had made a popular recording of it.


A few years prior.

She didn’t feel comfortable reciting the Eric’s from memory, so she wanted a little help, we could have gotten a teleprompter, a just loaded everything into a teleprompter that technology did exist, but we had to go old school because it was very late.


So someone else on the team as in not Todd made the cue cards, so I was handed a stack of cue cards from the library staff and I should have checked them, but I trust the Excellence of that staff, so, I figured they’re all in order at so as soon as the song began and started shed the cue cards and they got to the second card and it was not the correct card.


God bless Patti.


So I’m just going to add limp and and she did and you know the crowd just ate it up.

Hey just a car.

Comedy of Errors.

Comedy Now wasn’t comic that day.

Wow, well, there you have it.


Well, I’ve got ice running through my veins, just thinking about it.

Not knowing the cue cards you’re presenting are out of order until mid performance.

Always double check your work.

Kids now about those backup.


Singers behind the scenes, stage manager, Trent Reese was still under intense pressure.

Trying to get patties, three background, singers out of secret.


I’m talking my way through security points with the singers, trying to vouch for these folks, who I’ve only seen for three rehearsals, maybe that week and acting as though I can vouch for their character and what contents they might have in their pockets.


Trent was persistent and adamant warning people.

There are three empty microphones out there on that stage.

These are the three people that need to occupy them and you’re the person who’s going to determine as to whether it is Christmas tree, lighting has a success earning that moment itself can be kind of daunting, but I just know I have to get them to the stage.


Now, if you watch the video to its conclusion, Trent did his job.

The background singers do eventually get on stage about. 90 seconds into the song, There are three of them standing there.

Two women.

And a guy, they start to sing.


Patty even sings, thank you and the whole scene kind of awkwardly resolves, but the damage had been done.

Everyone on that stage looks defeated.

The wind has been knocked out of their sails, still Patty ends the song on well high note.


Shortly after the song ended, while she was.

Introducing the next ACT Patty admitted in her own way, just how she felt about the performance.

Thank you very much.

Now, it’s my turn to do it in a reduction.

No more singing to me, honey.

Already blue.

I already blew patty just before the show ended as Bill Clinton got ready to light the tree.


He took the Mike speaking directly to Patti my friend Patti LaBelle you did well with and without your singers.

Yeah, no.

Thanks to you mr.


In the years.


Since as the video achieved viral status, Patty herself has been relatively quiet about the performance her, most public commentary.

If you can call it, that took place in 2017 21 years after the performance, on the Bravo Show, Watch What Happens Live.


The show’s host Andy Cohen took the opportunity to ask her the burning question.

Did you know that that clip?

Where do you remember that?

You don’t wear?


You were at the National Christmas Tree, Lighting and DC in DC.

The clintons were there and the background singers weren’t there.


And you went on.

You were singing this Christmas and it went viral, like crazy.

Last time I ever saw that.

Oh my God, but I’m glad I made a mistake.

I know what you’re thinking.

How do you forget a mistake?


But the rest of the world is basically obsessed with.

I mean, I could never forget.

An embarrassing moment like that.

I haven’t even lived down tripping on stage at my eighth, grade graduation rehearsal, but I’m not Patti.

LaBelle and honestly, I believe her I do think it’s possible that she doesn’t remember.


I don’t know for sure.

But I’d like to think that Patti just had so much career.

So many knockout shows, since then they’ve basically eclipse.

This one performance of this one little song, 25 years ago.

When you are in and of the business, you have to be impressed by an artist who has a dense catalog of songs and hits and duets with other artists.


And they remember the chart the temple and every word verbatim.

So, who are?

We should maybe have a negative comment when an artist forgets the word?

Trent Reese makes a good point.


We hold these cultural icons up above us on a pedestal and the ones that are really polished can even make us forget for a while that all that Talent ultimately is contained within a human being.

It’s inevitable that their Humanity will poke through especially when things don’t go as planned.


The question, then is How will they handle that?

The circus around them, the mistake, the crack in the veneer?

And Patty’s case.

She handled it, like, the pro.

She is Patty, pulled it off with that.


Silky smooth, powerful voice.

They seem to be able to reach the heavens at a given Split.


She was able to finesse through it.

Maybe it was the makeup and hair being just right.


Maybe it’s the fact that it is Patti.

We love you labelled and America was willing to be forgiven.

Getting to the truth behind this viral video.


It’s been a journey one that all started with our producer.

Julie, Carly digging into something that had occupied her for years.

Julie, did everything she could to round out the story with the obvious, the missing backup singers, but no dice.


We were able to identify two of the three singers.


One of them had recently passed and the other just didn’t want to talk.

Who knows.

Maybe they were also at that Legends Ball.

Julie, you’ve uncovered this incredible story and I’m sitting here and I’m wondering like, what?


What is the takeaway from this?

What is this song mean?

The the big takeaway is that ultimately mistakes happen and they can actually be really beautiful moments and they can be moments that bring you closer to other people.

They can be moments that show you that life is actually just sort of okay like we take ourselves way, too.


Seriously, and when you can recover from them with Grace and actually a sense of humor, that’s that’s the sweet spot.

That’s The Sweet Spot.


A tender take away.


It’s giving me all those nice holiday feelings almost like at the end of a Christmas movie.

Almost to really cap this thing off, right?

And to give you all the perfect bow on this holiday story.


We’re missing one very important element because as I’m sure you know, Christmas movies don’t just end with a tender feeling they often come with a big old send off a showstopper One Last Christmas he’s shebang and how better to wrap up this musical story than with an original song.


We assembled an All-Star group of people to bring it to life including some incredibly talented singers and even Patti LaBelle’s former guitar player.

So without further Ado, a gift from the not past it team to the incomparable Patti, LaBelle to Trent to Todd to John to everyone who performed that day.


And of course, to all of you.

May I present the world premiere of where?

Are my background singers?


I’m feeling all alone out here on my background singers to help me see.


I had to go on stage, but we’re not on the same page to help me find my sky.


Ow. security, so I can Touch it up to do his job.


Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.

This episode was produced by Amy, Padula and reported by Julie Carly next week who said, Christianity can’t get sexy.

I think, I hope I’m not getting my augustin’s mix that I think he was like Super Hornet, right?


The rest of our team is producer.

Sarah Craig and a Co-producer.

Remotely Philip.

Laura Newcomb is our production assistant.

The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by moral Waltz, Andrea be Scott and Zach Stewart.

Ponte a fact-checking by Jane, Ackerman sound design and mixing by Hans Dale.


She original music by Sachs kicks.


Willie Green.

J bless and Bobby Lord, and for that incredible song, Dion, Carol herb Smith, Tasha Owens, Melvin Davis, and Drew Schultz with lyrics by Julie Carly.

And music by Bobby Lord, our theme song as Toko Liana by Coco, with music supervision by Liz Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman.


The executive producer, a DSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte.

The executive producer from gimlet is Abbie ruzicka.

Lots of people to thank for.

This one special.

Thanks to Sarah bear.

Julie Burns, Jerome Campbell Emma Courtland the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Jane Crow.


Kim Davidson Mary Griffin, Robert Huffman Caroline, Jones, Andrew Justice.

Adam Lessard.

Stephen Lewis, the Library of Congress, Katie liming, Eric Mozingo, Kathy, Osborne David, Nathan, Janice pendarvis, Jason spear Martha, Wash James, Washington, Thayer, Woodcock Denise, Wilkinson.


And the ladies of Sky Valerie.

Jaros and to Lydia Pole Green, Dan Behar and Clara Sankey Emily wiedemann list Styles and Nabil cholent.

Pot follow not past it.

Now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify.

Click the little bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes.


You can follow me on Twitter at Simone pollen on.

Thanks for Hangin.

We’ll see you next week.

And I would say to you.

Please have an awesome rest of the day in a week on purpose.

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