The “Memory” of ‘CATS’ through the years: Who sang it best?

man dressed as a cat leaping

A song impossible to forget, “Memory” from the Broadway musical CATS is widely considered to be the original king of show tunes.

woman in a costume from CATS

Elaine Paige originated the role of Grizabella and released a single of ‘Memory’, reaching number 6 in the UK charts.

According to musicologist Jessica Sternfeld, it is “by some estimations the most successful song ever from a musical.”

So, before CATS pounces into TPAC Nov. 19-24, we thought we’d take a look at the timeless tune to finally answer the question: Who sang it best?

Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Trevor Nunn, it was written for the 1981 Broadway show based on the T. S. Eliot poems Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy Night.

As the climax of the musical and by far its best-known song, the tune is sung primarily by the character Grizabella as a melancholic remembrance of her glamorous past and as a plea for acceptance.

But Grizabella’s not the only one who’s sank their claws into the show’s hit song. Unable to be contained to the CATS kingdom, “Memory” has achieved mainstream success far outside of the musical — being covered by over 150 artists ranging from Barry Manilow to Celine Dion.

This song clearly has more than nine lives. By 2006, there were around 600 recorded versions of the song, ranging from easy listening to techno covers.

Some may remember Barbara Streisand’s cover (produced by Lloyd Webber himself, and widely regarded as the definitive version) for her 1981 album Memories.

Memory album cover

Barbra Streisand recorded ‘Memory’ and released it as a single in 1982.

Others may recall Epica, the Dutch symphonic metal band, putting their spin on it for the 2004 video album We Will Take You With Us.

Longtime lovers of the age-old classic may prefer the version by Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella in the West End production of CATS and released a version that was a Top 10 hit in the UK in July 1981.

And we can’t rule out Jennifer Hudson, who will portray Grizabella in the musical’s 2019 film adaptation and sang “Memory” in the film’s first trailer released in July 2019.

As one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous compositions, it’s clear this runaway hit has had a life far beyond the musical.

But the question still remains: Who sang it better?

We’ll leave it up to you, Nashville (videos below).

Get tickets for CATS — coming to TPAC Nov. 19-24 — at, by phone at 615-782-4040 and at the TPAC Box Office, 505 Deaderick St.

Barbra Streisand

Elaine Paige (original cast West End)

Betty Buckley (original cast Broadway)

Laurie Beechman (Grizabella 1984–1988, 1997)

Loni Ackerman (1989-1991)

Liz Callaway (1993-1996, 1998)

Barry Manilow

Celine Dion

Susan Boyle

Pia Douwes (Grizabella in Vienna, Amsterdam, Russia 1987-1988,1995)

Nicole Scherzinger

Heather Headley

Paul Potts


Jennifer Hudson

Connect with Michael Aldrich on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @michaelwaldrich.

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