This undated photo provided by Alligator Records, shows Ann Rabson, co-founder of the trio Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women. Alligator Records says Rabson died Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 in Fredericksburg, Va. She was 67. (AP Photo/Alligator Records, Marc Norberg)
She became one of the pre-eminent barrelhouse blues pianists of our time, but Ann Rabson didn’t even take up the instrument until she was 35 years old.
The founder of Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, who died today at 67, began playing guitar as a teen. The New York-born musician moved to Fredericksburg, Va., in the early 70s, where she began teaching. With one of her guitar students, Gaye Adegbalola, she formed Saffire. After recording demos, the band released its debut album in 1990. The band released eight albums on Alligator Records, packed venues with enraptured audiences and with a long list of musicians from B.B. King to Ani DiFranco before disbanding in 2009.
Inspired by fellow female musicians such as Memphis Minnie and Big Mama Thornton, Saffire created a crowd-pleasing blend. They could deliver straightforward, serious blues and humorous songs with equal skill, and the tunes often displayed a feminist edge.
Rabson launched a solo career while still a part of Saffire. She debuted with 1997’s “Music Makin’ Mama.” Her latest album, “Not Alone,” was released in 2012.
"Our dear friend Ann Rabson was an extraordinary blues singer, pianist and guitarist and a delightful, smart and funny person,” said Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer, Rabson's long-time friend and producer, in a statement. “She was a loyal friend, a dedicated champion of the blues, a loving partner to her husband George, and an unforgettable woman. We were blessed to have known her."
Rabson’s friend and gigging and recording partner guitarist “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin’s statement is worth reproducing in full:
"The blues world is sad to lose one of our bright lights. Ann Rabson passed at home in her sleep after years of quiet strength against deadly affliction. She knew it was coming and lived her life to its fullest. She loved to play blues for people more than anyone I ever knew, anyone! In 2012 our intense collaboration on recordings and shows together and hard road trips was deliberate and spirited. She gave Death the finger as long as she could, and gave Life ten fingers on her piano. Personally, Ann Rabson was a big sister to me. Now I'm going to do what she would want, play some blues for her and celebrate her life and hold her in my heart forever. If you see me on a bandstand, and half-close your eyes, you'll see her next to me."