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Ann Hampton Callaway Remembers Wesla Whitfield

The singer/songwriter/actress reflects on Whitfield's (9/15/47 – 2/9/18) nuanced interpretations (9/15/47 – 2/9/18)

I don’t have a precise memory of meeting Wesla Whitfield. In the ’80s, I got to see Whitfield in the Plush Room in San Francisco, and she was just amazing, and I would see her at the Algonquin in New York. Years later we performed in Tucson, Arizona—my first time singing in Tucson, where I now live—at Centennial Hall. We did a show with the pianist Mike Greensill, her husband, and Karrin Allyson called “Broadway Swings.” This was the first time we really got to hang out and spend several days together, and it was great getting to know her and getting to witness the process between Mike and Wesla, because their relationship, both as a married couple and as two musicians who worked together, was really special in this business. The sensitivity of Mike’s accompaniment has always been sublime. He has impeccable taste. There are a lot of people who know how to play jazz, but not a lot of people who know how to accompany a singer, and he is one of those rare people.

After the tragedy of her being shot and paralyzed [from the waist down, in 1977], Mike would bring her onstage and just matter-of-factly lift her up and put her on a stool. And it was “This is what happens, and now it’s not about that anymore; it’s about the music.” Suddenly you felt like you didn’t need somebody moving around, shaking their hips, walking the stage. That was the power of her focus and of the beautiful intelligence she brought to the great songs of jazz and Broadway.

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