Diana in Savannah
Savannah. The setting of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The events that unravelled around the fascinating characters in ‘The Book’ happened 30 years ago. But Savannah still revels in larger than life people.
In the heart of the Victorian District is the Gingerbread House, home to the marvellous musician Diana Rogers. Lavender’s Blue arrived over one sultry Sunday afternoon to meet Diana in her kitchen. Exquisitely clad in oyster pink – hat, long gloves and real shell earrings to boot – she firstly entertained us with her witticisms, homemade sugared scones and a glass or two of bubbly.
Her house is a collectors’ paradise. Tables overflowing with vintage finds glisten in the scorching sunlight. Diana’s originally from Oklahoma. “All they do there is watch TV and go to church!” she howls 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, ensured that she was an instant Blues hit in New Orleans. Soon she outgrew even the jazz capital and it was off to the Big Apple.
In New York Diana deftly launched herself on the music scene. She played and sang at all the top hotels and 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 performed at the Madison Arms in East Hampton during the summer months. Diana was flown over to London and Cornwall to perform at private parties. She released an album of hits at the end of the Nineties featuring ‘I Know Him So Well’, ‘La Vie en Rose’ and her own composition ‘Middle Class Princess’.
In 2003 she decided it was time for a new phase of her life to begin so it was off to the Deep South. She bought a restored timber Victorian home on the pink azalea-lined East Gaston Street in Savannah.
“I still return to New York every couple of months,” she confesses. “Last time I was there I spent $2,000 on a hat. But it’s a real nice hat. 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. She’s performed in more than a dozen venues and can currently be heard in the basement piano bar of The Olde Pink House. In fact that’s where Lavender’s Blue 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. Fast forward 48 hours and we are in her house.
“Come on through to the parlour,” Diana waves. Keeping her gloves on – natch – she embarks on a one woman cabaret show, jauntily weaving her way through the music of Cole Porter and George Gershwin before celebrating the present day with Andrew Lloyd Weber and John Kander.
Diana reveals, “Imelda Marcos’ daughter lives next door. And Jerry Spence, the hairdresser mentioned in The Book is a frequent visitor. ‘Honey, you can find me on page 47!’ he tells everyone he meets!”
Another neighbour, Patricia, arrives. “She was big in Washington!” Diana confides in a stage whisper. Diana plays a medley of Johnny Mercer songs. Outside, a clap of thunder resounds across the gunpowder grey sky. Rain beats down heavily on the veranda. But it doesn’t dampen the decadent party spirit indoors.
Leopold, a grand tortoiseshell cat appears at the parlour door. “She guards the house!” exclaims Diana. The cat got her name before her gender was determined at the vets. “My workman Mr Tiles is built like Tarzan! He was upstairs doing work when I was away and he rang me sayin’, ‘I can’t get down the stairs! Your cat won’t let me past!’ Anyway, he had to jump out the bedroom window and slide down the porch roof!”
As we say our goodbyes late afternoon, Diana’s phone rings. More guests arrive. The party is just getting started. A competitive cacophony of church bells and thunder erupts but it goes unnoticed, drowned out by the echo of laughter, clinking of glasses and Diana upping the tempo with ‘All That Jazz’.