Savannah. The setting of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The events that unravelled around the intriguing characters of “The Book”, as locals refer to it, happened more than 30 years ago. But Savannah sure does still revel in larger than life people. In the heart of the Victorian District, which covers several squares of the city’s grid plan, sits the Gingerbread House. It’s the fretted spindled bracketed shuttered cookie cutter sweet as apple pie home of the marvellous musician Diana Rogers. One sultry Sunday morning, we arrived over to meet Diana in her kitchen. Exquisitely clad in oyster pink – summer hat, long silk gloves and real shell earrings to boot – she firstly entertained us with her witticisms, homemade sugared scones and a glass or three of bubbly. Diana herself sipped clear liquid out of a cocktail glass.
Her house is a collector’s paradise. Tables overflowed with vintage finds from clowns to toy frogs, glistening in the scorching sunlight streaming through the coloured sash windows. Diana was originally from Oklahoma. “All they do there is watch TV and go to church!” she howled with laughter. Rural life wasn’t for her. A classically trained pianist and singer, her wonderfully intoxicating voice, not to mention her superlative keyboard skills, meant she was an instant blues hit in New Orleans. Soon she even outgrew the Big Easy and packed her bags for the big time in the Big Apple. In New York she deftly launched herself on the music scene. Diana performed in all the top uptown hotels and downtown clubs: the Waldorf Astoria, Harry’s Bar, One Fifth Avenue, Windows on the World…
Hot in demand, Diana enjoyed a long engagement at Nino’s in New York throughout the Nineties. She played and sang at the Madison Arms in East Hampton during the summer months. Diana was flown across the Atlantic to perform at private parties in London and Cornwall. At the end of the century she released an album of hits featuring I Know Him So Well, La Vie en Rose and her own composition Middle Class Princess. In 2003 she decided it was time to embark on a new phase of her life so she packed her bags again and headed for the Deep South. For the price of her tiny Manhattan flat she picked up a five bedroom restored timber Victorian house with dripping bargeboards on the pink azalea lined East Gaston Street in Savannah. “I still return to New York every couple a’ months,” she drolled. “Last time I was there I ran up €2,000 on a hat. But it’s a real nice hat. Ya know my wardrobe takes up the whole top floor of the house.”
Diana has fully established herself as a firm fixture on Savannah’s music circuit. And social whirl. She’s performed in more than a dozen venues and can be heard in the basement piano bar of The Olde Pink House several nights a week. In fact that’s where we first came across her. Descending the stairs from the classy restaurant above, we heard Moon River in dulcet tones floating across the heavy evening air, laced with promise and romance. Fast forward 48 hours and there we were, in her home.
“Come on through to the parlour,” Diana beckoned. The morning had melted into early afternoon. Keeping her gloves on – natch – she embarked on a one woman cabaret show, jauntily weaving her way through Cole Porter and George Gershwin before celebrating the present day with Andrew Lloyd Weber and John Kander. “Imelda Marcos’ daughter lives right next door,” revealed Diana. “And Jerry Spence, the hairdresser mentioned in The Book, is always calling round. ‘Honey you can find me on page 47!’ he hollers to everyone he ever meets!” Another neighbour, Patricia, arrived. “She was big in Washington!” confided Diana in a stage whisper. A medley of Johnny Mercer songs began. Outside, rain from the gunpowder grey sky beat down heavily on the veranda. But it didn’t dampen the decadent party spirit indoors.
Leopold, her grand tortoise shell cat, looked on attentively. “She guards the house!” exclaimed Diana. The cat got her name before her gender was determined at the vets. “My workman Mr Tiles is built like Tarzan! He was workin’ upstairs and I was away and he rang me sayin’, ‘Diana I can’t get down the stairs! You gotta help me. Your cat won’t let me past!’ He had to jump out the bedroom window and slide down the porch roof!” Late afternoon, we declined a lift from Diana in her Cadillac to Oglethorpe Mall. We air kissed our goodbyes. Diana’s phone rang. More guests arrived. The party was just getting into full swing. A competitive cacophony of church bells and thunder claps erupted but it went unnoticed, drowned out by the echo of laughter, clinking of glasses and Diana upping the tempo with All That Jazz.