Remembering those who’ve left us

Looking back at the year in review, I’m thinking of those we will miss. From arts patrons and musicians to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, here are some notables of Cincinnati’s arts scene who left us in 2014:

In September: William A. Friedlander’s deep love and pride for his hometown inspired a lifetime of giving back. Mr. Friedlander, a 1999 Great Living Cincinnatian, was chairman emeritus of Bartlett & Co., where he worked 57 years.

But those who knew him remember him as an avid lover of classical music and a tireless booster of Cincinnati and all its assets.

Mr. Friedlander, 81, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in September. He worked quietly behind the scenes to make our city better. He was a generous philanthropist who gave without fanfare or expectation of thanks.

His influence is felt in many areas of Cincinnati’s cultural life, from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he was among donors who sponsored a permanent quartet-in-residence (the Ariel String Quartet), to the Mercantile Library, Downtown, where he served on the board, most recently as its president.

Along with his wife, Mr. Friedlander co-chaired the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Second Century Fund campaign from 1995 to 1997. They raised $45 million, considered at the time to be the largest amount ever raised for an arts organization in Greater Cincinnati.

The Corbett Foundation: In late August, The Corbett Foundation – which gave more than $70 million to arts and education in the region over the last 60 years – announced it was shutting its doors.

J. Ralph and Patricia Corbett established the family foundation in 1955 with the fortune they earned from their door chime company, NuTone.

From Ohio to Kentucky, the Corbett name graces many prominent arts venues, including the Corbett Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, Corbett Tower in Music Hall, Northern Kentucky University’s Patricia A. Corbett Theater and J. Ralph Corbett Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center.

Their final gift became known last month: A $1 million gift to the opera department at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. The money will be used for scholarships to recruit top-level singers and will allow CCM to remain competitive with other top programs in the country.

Maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos was an aristocrat when it came to music of the classical mainstream. But in the more picturesque, colorfully-orchestrated music of his Spanish compatriots, he was a magician.

Mr. Frühbeck died June 11 in Pamplona, Spain, after a battle with cancer. A week before his death, he officially retired from his six-decade career under his doctor’s orders. He was 80.

In Cincinnati over the last four decades, the maestro conducted 20 programs with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a total of 44 performances. Mr. Frühbeck served as a creative director for two seasons while the orchestra underwent a search for a music director that resulted in the appointment of Louis Langrée.

Blue Wisp Jazz Club: The news that the Blue Wisp Jazz Club has closed last June means that the Blue Wisp Big Band is looking for a new home.

For the next six weeks, the legendary band, now in its 35th season, has found temporary homes, first at Japp’s on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, and for the next month or so at the Pirate’s Den on the West Side. They play two sets starting around 8 p.m. every Wednesday for a small cover charge. (Because of the holiday, they are playing Tuesday night this week.)

“It’s to keep our continuity,” said John Von Ohlen, the renowned drummer and band co-founder. “I like to play in a joint, myself. My original idea was to have a first-class big band in a beer tavern.”

The 16-piece big band is looking at other venues as a permanent home, said Joe Gaudio of North Avondale, another one of the founding members.

Robert J. Schaffer stood with his hand over his heart during the national anthem at Cincinnati Reds games, but he couldn’t bring himself to sing the words. He feared that singing would bring back the flood of emotions he felt just before D-Day 70 years ago, when his band played the national anthem for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower during the embarkation ceremony for troops heading to fight on Normandy’s beaches.

“Dad couldn’t sing the national anthem later in life,” said his daughter, Rebecca Wells of Taylor Mill. “He said, ‘Honey, I can’t. I’ll start crying if I do that, because we sent so many guys.’ It was too much for him. Dad told us that Eisenhower reviewed (the troops) briefly, but also spent so much time talking personally with as many men as he could.”

Mr. Schaffer, “Dr. Bob,” organist and music director of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington for more than 60 years, died May 20. He was 92. The Park Hills resident held one of the longest tenures at a Catholic church in America.

Like many members of the Greatest Generation, Mr. Schaffer, who also played piano and trombone, did not speak much about his service in World War II. But he stayed in touch with members of the band, the Statesmen of the 87th Infantry Division, several of whom went on to have big careers in the music industry. Enlisted from Fort Knox, Kentucky, the band was ordered to report to work under the command of Gen. George S. Patton at a psychiatric hospital near Coventry, England, for live performances to help soldiers who suffered from combat stress disorders.

Mischa Santora, music director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra for 14 years, is conducted his final concert as music director in June. The maestro, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife and infant daughter, announced in September that the orchestra’s 40th anniversary season would be his last.

During his Cincinnati tenure, Santora is noted for a number of initiatives, from regular collaborations with other Cincinnati arts groups, to establishing a new holiday tradition, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a heartwarming Christmas story featuring giant puppets.

Maya Angelou‘s collaboration with the Cincinnati Symphony last November was one of her last artistic projects. Angelou, the author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and many other works, died on May 28 at age 86.

Kurt Seybold would serenade his customers with a rendition of “My Way” with a Manhattan in his hand at the end of every evening at Forest View Gardens.

“To this day, when I hear ‘My Way,’ I think of Kurt before I think of Sinatra,” said Titilayo Adedokun-Helm, the former Miss Ohio and Miss America runner-up, one of some 200 singers who got their start singing at the German restaurant in Montfort Heights.

Mr. Seybold, who owned Forest View Gardens with his wife, Trudie, before it closed in 2001, is remembered as a kind and generous man with a soft spot for singers. He loved life and always had time for a wicked joke or a good laugh. He died April 7 of complications from congestive heart failure. He was 76.

“In the early days, when I worked there, Kurt added a true sense of gemütlichkeit to the whole atmosphere,” said Thomas Hammons, of Lebanon, a renowned bass-baritone who was a singing waiter as a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music student before debuting at the Metropolitan Opera.

Millard F. Rogers Jr. worked to create a gracious, welcoming atmosphere at the Cincinnati Art Museum during his 20-year tenure as the museum’s director. Mr. Rogers, the museum’s fifth director, died March 25. He was 81.

“He wanted it to be lovely and open to everyone and he wanted the art to sing, to jump out at people, and to be there for them to enjoy,” said his wife of 50 years, Nina Rogers of Mariemont. “To him, what was hanging on the walls and in the cases was important. Nobody loved the museum more than Millard, and he knew the collection backward and forward.”

During his tenure at Cincinnati Art Museum (1974-94), Mr. Rogers oversaw a major renovation in the early ’90s that restored the previously hidden Great Hall to its former splendor and reinstalled the museum’s collection. He recognized the importance of the museum’s collection of 19th century photographs and appointed the museum’s first curator of photography. He also appointed the museum’s first curators of Near and Far Eastern art, costumes and textiles, and contemporary art.

Ralph Morris Penland was a modest virtuoso of the drums who loved to teach, but performing was his life. The prolific jazz drummer and Cincinnati native worked with a who’s who in the jazz world. Mr. Penland died March 13 from stroke complications. He was 61.

Despite the many superstars with whom he performed, from Frank Sinatra to Miles Davis, Mr. Penland remained quiet, humble and a devoted Jehovah’s Witness, his family said. He was an active performer, clinician and faculty member at Pasadena City College in California.

Sylvia Benjamin: Performer, journalist and dynamic civic leader all rolled into one – Sylvia L. Benjamin lived every moment of every day to the fullest.

Mrs. Benjamin died on Feb. 22 at her home at the Academy at Bella Vista in Boulder, Colo. The Cincinnati native was 92.

An Equity actor, Mrs. Benjamin was a familiar figure in local dramatic shows, as well as on radio and television. She was known for her charisma and glamor, her brilliant smile and a wicked sense of humor.


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