IN MY OPINION
Books Read in 2007
Sings for Walt"
My Favorite Video Blogs
(for others, see Links page)
Wizard of Oz--Alternate Ending
Phil Donahue vs. Bill O'Reilly
Drunk Driving Test
Steve Irwin Meets Ross the Intern
Volcanic Eruption 4/2/07
Polar Bear Cub
Family Stories Vlog
New on My
THE EXPANDING HEAVENLY CHOIR
7 May 2007
I will never forget the day of the 2007 Kentucky Derby.
I was sitting here at my desk, watching Avast slowly examine all the files on my computer, a task it had now been doing for over 12 hours, waiting for the Derby to start.
Suddenly Walt's head popped in the door. He looked agitated.
"Did you read your e-mail yet?" he asked.
I explained that I hadn't been able to get to e-mail since the previous night and asked what was in e-mail.
"Jean Ziaja died," he said.
There are times when you realize how bland life can be without musical accompaniment. This news needed a big somber chord. I sat here with my mouth hanging opened. "What happened?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said. "There was just a note to the Lamplighter list." (Later we found it was an apparent heart attack. She was 60.)
Jean was one of those people who seemed like a friend because we'd known each other for so many years. I'd watched her on stage for many years before I knew her. I started to know her when I went to work for the Lamplighters in 1981. She was performing then, and I was always around, so we saw each other frequently.
She became part of the "Gilbert group," the folks, who planned Gilbert's funeral in 1986, and who have attended the Gilbert memorial each year for the past 20 years.
But I didn't really have any sort of a "friend" relationship with her. We exchanged Christmas cards some years, not other years. Walt and I went to Lamplighter parties that Jean and John hosted and we were always cordial and enjoyed each other. She never failed to give me a big hug when we got together, but I didn't really know her. We liked each other, and I suspect that if I lived in San Francisco and was still working with the Lamplighters we might have become better friends, but our paths just never crossed.
We saw John recently at a birthday party for our friend Will. A lot of the Lamplighter old timers were there. I asked him where Jean was and he said she was taking care of some property she owned. He seemed distant, but then John always seems distant (when you're that tall, it's easy to seem distant).
I simply could not believe that she was gone.
This was the second death in the Lamplighter family in the last month, both wonderful contraltos. Mary Keith McMahon Brown died several weeks ago. She had retired many years ago and had lived in Majorca, in Arizona and, for the last several years back in California. Each year when she sent her Christmas greeting, she invited me to come and visit her, but I never did.
She was the "older generation" of Lamplighters. Jean was my generation. As the "older contraltos" left the stage, Jean was waiting in the wings and she filled that contralto slot to the n'th degree, with a rich, full voice and a wonderful sense of comic timing.
When Gilbert and I wrote Major General Hospital, we cast Jean as an aging Cabaret-type singer. She wore a costume like Liza Minnelli, with a black body suit and black stockings. It was the most revealing costume she'd ever worn, and, though not a particularly large woman, neither was she petite. Gilbert worried that she might be uncomfortable, but she readily agreed and performed with gusto, to the delight of the audience.
Jean was one of a handful of Lamplighters who drove up from San Francisco for Walt's surprise 50th birthday party in 1990. I had written lyrics to a Gilbert & Sullivan a song for the event and Jean sang it, backed up by members of Lawsuit. It's the video of the day for today.
There was a reception and John and Jean's house today. Jean was the one who usually planned these things.
Walt and I drove to San Francisco, listening to, "I Have a Song to Sing O," the Lamplighters CD. Listening to Jean sing, it was hard to realize she was gone.
The house was filled with familiar faces, mostly people who had known her for many years. We talked, laughed, ate — it was a Lamplighter party, after all — and we shared Jeannie stories. We looked at photos. We wondered what life is going to be like with no Jean in it.
But we agreed on one thing. The Heavenly Choir is gonna sound a whole lot better now.
This is a blog that someone set up in Jean's memory, with comments and reminiscences.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
John and Jean Ziaja
This is entry #2594