June LeBell, Pioneering Radio Announcer, Dies at 73

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

WQXR Archive Collections

Obituary written by Sam Roberts found on nytimes.com:

June LeBell, a professional concert soprano who became one of the first women to be hired as a staff announcer and interviewer in the male-dominated realm of commercial classical music radio broadcasting, died on Sunday in Sarasota, Fla. She was 73.

The cause was ovarian cancer, her husband, Edward L. Alley, said.

Ms. LeBell produced, wrote and hosted programs on WQXR in New York for nearly three decades beginning in 1973 after she learned from the station manager that he was looking to hire a minority announcer. She recommended a black friend, who tried out for the job and then rejected it.

Ms. LeBell contacted the program manager again and asked, “What do you have against a nice white girl?” she told The Bradenton Herald in Florida in 2012. He replied that she had misunderstood, and that his meaning of minority included women.

“He said, ‘I offered it to you but you turned me down,’ ” Ms. LeBell recalled.

This time, she accepted.

She became a familiar voice on the station, hosting “IBM’s Salute to the Arts” and “Kitchen Classics,” which coupled her favorite subjects, music and food.

“She changed the face of classical music radio in this country from its former somewhat stodgy and patrician sound and format to a warmer, friendly and more conversational medium,” Mr. Alley said in an email. “The ‘smile in her voice’ was verbal honey for her millions of listeners.”

Ms. LeBell was 29 when she joined WQXR, an FM station then owned by The New York Times Company, becoming what the station described as its first full-time female host and the first woman on the staff of any major commercial classical radio station.

She built on the work of trailblazers like Gertrude Mittelmann, who was hired by WQXR in 1940 to adapt her interpretive “Come Dance Through the Ages” programs for radio.

June Wendie LeBell was born on April 29, 1944, in Manhattan to Irving LeBell, a pediatrician, and the former Harriet Adler, a painter.

She graduated from the High School of Music and Art (now Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts) and the Mannes College of Music in New York and attended the Hartt College of Music (now the Hartt School of the University of Hartford).

After performing professionally as a soprano, she was also the host of a lecture series, “The Sound of Broadway,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and compiled a book of recipes from musicians titled “Kitchen Classics From the Philharmonic: A Culinary & Musical Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the New York Philharmonic” (1992), which was illustrated by Al Hirschfeld.

After the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, a few blocks from where she lived, she retired to Florida, where she hosted a regular public radio program and a series on music at the Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning.

Her marriage, in 2009, to Mr. Alley, who met Ms. LeBell when he was orchestra manager of the New York Philharmonic, was her first. When she was 27, she was engaged to the violinist Michael Rabin, who suffered from a neurological condition and whom she found dead in his apartment at age 35 after he had slipped on his freshly waxed floor and struck his head.

In addition to Mr. Alley, she is survived by her sister, Barbara Joseph.


Music review: Music Festival Weekend Two

June 19th, 2017Posted by admin

Students and faculty continue to impress in Sarasota Music Festival’s second weekend.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 18, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

Last Friday’s concert of the Sarasota Music Festival was dedicated to the memory of June LeBell, broadcaster, host of SILL’s Music Mondays, classical music reviewer for the Observer Group, and — my wife. Brief but moving opening remarks were made by Robert Levin, former artistic director, who was returning for his 38th year.

Barber’s “Summer Music”opened this chamber music concert, with students Christine Murphy, flute, Breana Gilcher, oboe, and Sara Aratake, clarinet, joined by faculty members William VerMeulen, horn and Nancy Geores, bassoon, in an excellent performance. Alternating brisk and rapid passages with more contemplative ones, Barber gives us an evocative portrait of a quiet summer evening, interrupted by firefly or birdlike twitters and soothed by calming contrapuntal passages which could signal the coming of nightfall.

Mendelssohn’s delightful 2nd String Quintet was next, with Madeline Adkins and Felicity James, violins, Carrie Jones and Thomas Duboski, violas, and Natalie Helm, cello, and it was given a rousing and energetic performance. Several passages are pleasant reminders of his earlier works, namely the octet and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” yet this is an excellent example of Mendelssohn at his finest.

Brahms’ massive Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major closed the concert, featuring faculty members Robert Levin, piano, Alexander Kerr, violin, Robert Vernon, viola and Timothy Eddy, cello. Certainly of symphonic proportions, this thorny work has such an abundance of musical ideas and working out of themes that it is not easily assimilated on first hearing, but still its innate artistry, construction, and majesty make it a worthy challenge for any audience. From the fiery opening chords of the first movement, through the lyrical song-like writing of the second, to the long working out of the themes in the finale, the work creates a lasting impression. There was a lot of good listening to do in this first-rate performance by these fine players. A few imperfections in intonation were easily pardoned in the overall sweep of sound.

Saturday’s concert opened with Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks Concerto” for orchestra, which could appear an odd choice in an otherwise Mozart evening, but it actually wasn’t. Written in Stravinsky’s neoclassical period in which he abandoned the complexities of his earlier works for a seemingly simpler and more classical style, this was “lean and mean” writing: lean since the texture was clean and clear, and perhaps a bit mean, since every voice was virtually a solo and there was no place to hide, musically speaking. There was certainly no need to hide, for the musicians were more than up to the task, giving us a performance that highlighted each of the players and sections in this somewhat playful, but deadly serious piece.

Alexander Kerr, currently concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, was soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto # 3, written when Mozart was 19 and Concertmaster of the Salzburg Court Orchestra. Kerr plays with a clean, clear sound, and good technique, with excellent execution and musical taste, especially in the lyrical second movement, which was beautiful music making at its finest.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor ended the evening, showcasing both the increasing artistry of the orchestra and introducing a new conductor to the Festival. Brett Mitchell, conductor of the Colorado Philharmonic and a slew of guest engagements, is a real find. His spare yet eloquent technique brought forth all the lovely contours of the work without sacrificing any of the precision. Often conducting phrases more than measures, Mitchell and the orchestra created a beautiful, moving and mature performance that made it even more difficult to realize this is nominally a student festival orchestra and not an ongoing entity. Yes, it was that good!


Music review: Sarasota Music Festival opening weekend

June 14th, 2017Posted by admin

Jeffrey Kahane and the Festival Orchestra opened the festival with palpable energy.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 12, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

If last Friday and Saturday’s sold-out concerts at the Sarasota Opera House are any indication, the Sarasota Music Festival has struck the mother lode in its appointment of Jeffrey Kahane as Music Director. He is a combination of superb musician, outstanding performer and excellent conductor — a veritable trifecta in the music world. And he speaks well.

Friday night’s concert was an adventurous risk in programming: All six of the Bach Brandenburg Concerti in one evening. But it worked, and how. Hearing all of these concerti together, one realizes the genius of Bach’s talent, adhering to the Italian concerto grosso style, while using different pairings of solo instruments. Each solo group had its own sound and style, from three oboes to three violins to no violins, to flutes and violins, to flute, oboe and trumpet, and it gave us a grand tour of all these possibilities. To me, the different sound of each of these groupings was the highlight of hearing all six concerti performed in one program.

Each featured group was a combination of faculty and students. To list them all by name would alone use up all my space, but highlights included the virtuoso horns in the first, the excellent strings in all six, the Vivaldi-like solo violin outburst in the fourth, and of course, the famous high-wire flights of the piccolo trumpet in the second, ably played by Robert Smith, substituting for Michael Dobrinski. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducted all from the harpsichord, with a brilliant solo himself in Concerto No. 5.

Saturday evening’s concert opened with Gabriel Fauré’s languid “Pavanne,” performed with the stately elegance it deserves. It could easily be paired with the Sicilienne from his “Pelleas and Melisande” suite, for they are so alike in style and mood.

Jasmine Choi, a 2003 festival alumna, was soloist in Jacques Ibert’s feisty Flute Concerto, long neglected because of its difficulty, but she breezed through it as though it were a mere piece of fluff — which it certainly isn’t. Ibert’s Concerto is truly a virtuoso work, with the soloist playing almost nonstop throughout all three movements. Choi is a cool performer, playing with the near straight tone favored today, executing all the pyrotechnics of the first and third movements with ease, while providing lovely phrasing and sound in the lyrical second movement. Truly a brilliant performance.

How many times have you heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Probably too many to count, but the performance by the Festival Orchestra, conducted by Kahane, sounded fresher and newer than could be imagined. Beginning with “the most famous four notes in the world,” as Kahane mentioned in his introductory remarks, the performance sprang forth with a relentless momentum that was sustained throughout. Never rushed, but always insistent, the constant forward motion Kahane generated in this performance created a grand arch, which culminated in the climactic entrance of the brass with trombones in the great C major chords, which open the last movement. I have always been captured by the beautiful structure Beethoven gave this symphony, taking that four-note motif and giving it permutations throughout the movements, providing us with a wonderful example of inspired classic symphonic form.

The Festival Orchestra had only two, maybe three, rehearsals to prepare this concert, yet the results were excellent. What was most exciting to me was the increasing sense of ensemble, nuance and just plain enjoyment they were experiencing as they progressed through the four movements of the Beethoven. It was palpable.

Kahane galvanized his eager and energetic musicians throughout the evening, and their enthusiasm was transmitted to the audience, who responded with warm, enthusiastic and well deserved ovations.

With this pair of concerts, the 2017 Sarasota Music Festival has indeed created a tough act to follow. Will they do it? It’s probably best to attend the next concerts yourself and learn the answer first hand.


Music review: Outdoor Pops

May 16th, 2017Posted by admin

Sarasota Orchestra and guests score a home run at annual outdoor concert.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: May 14, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

In a picture-perfect evening Friday, May 12, the Sarasota Orchestra, with assists from the All-Star Singers and American Idol runner-up Clark Beckham, scored not only a home run — but a grand slam with its annual concert at Ed Smith Stadium.

Why is it we all get so excited about being able to enjoy hot dogs and peanuts (and yes, Cracker Jacks) while listening to a symphony orchestra? Maybe it’s the same somewhat perverse pleasure some receive (myself included) by being able to eat popcorn at an HD performance by the MET Opera. But unlike the darkened movie theater, an outdoor concert is an event in and of itself, with casually dressed people from everywhere flocking into the sold-out audience opposite third base to enjoy an evening of popular favorites.

Popular and favorite they were, beginning with “Entrance of the Gladiators,” that wonderful march that is the soul of the circus and followed by the “Star Spangled Banner,” beautifully sung acapella by the eight voices of the All-Star Singers. This fine group from Orlando, which has performed regularly at Disney World, continued with a set consisting of selections from “Damn Yankees” and “Momma Mia,” which turned into a spontaneous clap-and-sing-along and ended with a moving arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah.”

Then, the Sarasota Orchestra, which could easily be the “best backup band” in the business, came into its own with “Orange Blossom Special”— morphing every violinist into a “fiddler” charging full speed ahead in a pretty dazzling waterfall of fine fiddling. Following were musical “Portraits of the Beatles,” a selection from John Williams’ fine score for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”and a “Marvin Hamlisch Celebration,” beautifully arranged by Henry Mancini.

The evening’s headliner was Clark Beckham, runner-up in “American Idol” in 2015. Clearly an audience favorite, his casual manner, combined with his fervent country-blues style singing, brought forth big applause and cheers, especially his performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

For his finale, Beckham was joined by the All-Star Singers in “God Bless the USA,” which brought the audience to its feet, singing and swaying with patriotism galore.

The Sarasota Orchestra then got down to the serious business of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which has virtually said “Get ready for the fireworks,” since it was first used for that purpose in an outdoor concert, probably by the NY Philharmonic in their Park Concerts in the 1960s.

And arrive they did — aided and abetted by Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the fireworks once again stole the show with a gigantic display that ended a wonderful evening at Ed Smith Stadium.

No, the mandatory amplification of the orchestra is still not the best, but it has improved steadily over these past four years, and is only a part of the total ambience of the evening, which is the excitement of hearing a great orchestra and guest artists perform in an outdoor setting. No wonder it’s been sold out for four years and had a second concert scheduled this year. Congratulations to both the Orioles and the Sarasota Orchestra on a terrific evening.


Funeral Service and Interment for June Lebell

May 7th, 2017Posted by admin

June LeBell Alley, 73, of Sarasota, FL, formerly of New York, New York, died on April 30, 2017.

Services will be held at 2:00 PM on May 8, 2017 at Church of the Palms, 3224 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, FL.
The event will be livestreamed.

PDF for the Celebration of Life

Interment will be held at 11:00 AM Thursday May 11, 2017 at Sarasota National Cemetery, 9810 State Rd. 72, Sarasota, FL 34241.

Instead of flowers, contributions may be made to Sarasota Orchestra, Sarasota Opera or Tidewell Hospice.


June LeBell–The Loss of a Treasured Friend

May 6th, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by Rose Levy Beranbaum found on realbakingwithrose.com:

June died yesterday with the same grace with which she lived. Her last words to her many friends, fans, and family were to comfort all of us: I am calm and at peace. Her last words sent to me were: I cherish our friendship. Music, food and just plain love. Thank you my friend.

June died the day after her birthday and the day before her 8th wedding anniversary to Ed Alley. I’ll always remember the day I was on a help line for my computer, waiting for a response from the slow typist on the other end, when I chanced to see an email from June saying: Big News! Then, with great joy, I saw the rest: I got married! This was June’s first marriage and she had waited almost a lifetime to find the love of her life. I was so happy for her I ‘screamed’ onto the computer: June LeBell is married! The tech on the other end responded with: That’s wonderful! To this day I’m not sure if he even knew who she was but very likely he did, based on his response and also on June’s ‘visibility.’ June was the first female announcer on WQXR–a career which spanned almost 30 years. Her exquisite voice, knowledge of music, and sense of humor delighted millions of listeners. I’m surprised that there is no obit in The New York Times (WQXR was the radio station of The New York Times.) Maybe it will come. (It did–3-2-17!)

Here is the introduction to her first and only book, The Kitchen Classics. June had asked me to write the intro to the dessert chapter, saying that Julia Child was writing the intro to the savory one. But when Julia heard I was writing the one for the dessert chapter she said: “Rose knows you so much better; let her do the whole thing.” Thank you Julia! Until I wrote it I had no idea how very much I had to say–how deep was my music background, and my friendship with June.

Introduction to The Kitchen Classics by June LeBell

I was born with music in my ears, in my heart, and in my soul. I am sure this is because my mother, who as a young girl studied with Nadia Reisenberg, played womb concerts (the ultimate chamber music) on the piano when she was pregnant with me. She was convinced that even though I had not yet been born, I would still hear something, if only vibrations, and would grow up familiar with and open to music–one of life’s greatest joys. Her theory apparently worked, because as soon as I could walk I approached the piano and picked out tunes by ear.

If I had been offered the choice of any talent in the world (if I couldn’t have been Mozart) it would have been to have a glorious voice and be an opera singer. But since I did not have even a passable singing voice, my instrument became the violin.

One summer, when I was at music camp near Tanglewood, studying with the second violinist of the Boston Symphony orchestra, my great uncle, who had engineered this arrangement, came to visit me and posed the dreaded question: “exactly what kind of talent do you possess; concert or drawing room?” The only possible answer was the disappointing truth: neither. As it turned out, despite the fact that I graduated from Carnegie Hall (the High School of Music and Art held all its graduations there) I was an extremely mediocre violin player who preferred listening to performing; but then, the music world does need some appreciative listeners. Our family had its share of them. Legend has it that my great aunt Beck was so moved by a concert at Lewisohn stadium she got up in the middle and started to dance, explaining afterwards that she couldn’t help herself. My mother’s theory was that since she had grown up in Russia she had the passionate Russian soul. We also had two bonafide performers: Aunt Beck’s husband, appropriately named Fiddler and Uncle Tibor (Kozma), who conducted at the Met under Rudolph Bing and then went on to become head of the music department at the University of Indiana. It is thanks to him that my first “grownup” birthday party, when I was twelve, was at a Met production of the Fledermaus. The kids were all very bored (including me–the Fledermaus has never been one of my favorites), but their parents were quite impressed. And it was never really a surprise to run into one of the great aunts during intermission at the opera.

This generation had my cousin Andrew Schenck (pronounced Skenk), also a gifted conductor, and perhaps the next generation will have my little nephew Alexander who, when he first started to sing had that surprised look, bordering on awe, which clearly said: can these bell like sounds be coming from me?

Ravi Shankar once said that for him music is the bridge between the personal and the infinite. It is my feeling that all acts of creativity, approached with the same reverence of total devotion, offer that possibility. Somehow, though, music soars above all others. My soul has been transported by a bite of still warm from the oven Chocolate Domingo Cake, but no food has given me the total corporal and spiritual orgasm music is capable of inspiring.

My mother, whose profession was dentistry, held dear a theory that senses located in the region of the head are the most exquisite and also the ones most intimately connected. As a “food person,” I see more and more how true this is. Taste, smell, vision, and hearing have a profound effect on each other’s perception. As a very young child, I would not let my mother play the song Ramona because it reminded me of chocolate pudding (which I detested). I suppose I must have experienced it as equally thick and sodden with sentimentality.

The connection between food and music is found even in the words used to describe them. In the food industry, the most common word used to analyze flavor is note. Texture is another word food and music have in common. One of my favorite musical memories is of the time I met Isaac Stern at a party celebrating the birth of Jenifer Lang’s book Tastings. I had provided the Chocolate Oblivion Cake that was featured in the book. When George Lang introduced me to Isaac Stern, he rose up, took my hand, and bowed deeply from the waist saying: “Your cake was like velvet.” My response: “That is the very word I used to describe your playing the first time I heard you play the Tchaikovsky violin concerto when I was sixteen!” (If any breath had been left I would have added that it was at Tanglewood.)

When June LeBell and I were classmates at Music and Art, what seems like only a few years ago, it seemed inevitable that her future would be in music. My fate was far less certain. When we met again, it was when I came to WQXR to advertise my cooking school on the radio. I brought with me my then favorite cake: Grand Marnier et Chocolat. I must admit, I felt that I was entering into a musical temple with something, though quite delicious, perhaps not quite worthy. But June did not seem at all surprised or condescending regarding my transition from violin to cake. In fact, to my relief, it seemed that as far as she was concerned, I was still in the “arts.” Several years later, when she started “The Kitchen Classics,” featuring recipes accompanied by “appropriate” music, I became a frequent guest on the show, which gave us a chance to renew our friendship–often on the air. In fact, we had so much fun catching up and reminiscing, we often forgot that we were on the air! The best part was that we share a similar sense of humor, which is most likely to happen between people whose frame of reference is so similar. Often we felt like we would make a great vaudeville team. I would read my favorite buttermilk cake recipe, to which June would play a recording of what she referred to (with a gleam in her eye) as “Madama Buttermilk”! We laughed almost the whole show through and got lots of delightful “feedback” from the audience. When June told me about her plans for this book, it seemed like the perfect joyful extension of her show.

The book turned out to be so multi dimensional and entertaining, it’s difficult to do full justice to its depth and breadth.

On a personal note, it’s great fun for me to find old childhood friends, now famous musicians, between these covers: the guy who teased me at Music camp (Paul Dunkel), the high-school friend who accompanied me home after ice-skating in Central Park, walking his bike alongside (Stephen Kates), the tall dark and brilliant harpsichordist who dated my cousin and whose father was my English teacher (Kenneth Cooper).
The humor, intelligence, generosity, and charm June possesses make this book unique. She serves up each “personality” in the most personal of all possible ways: in his or her own voice. These delightful anecdotes, peppered throughout the book, have as their counterpoint favorite recipes contributed by each performer. We know their music but now we know another side of them, and they become friends.
And as the proverbial icing on the cake, this book is graced with the incomparable caricatures of our beloved Hirschfeld.

It is a great honor to participate in the 150th celebration of the Philharmonic by being a part of this special book. For me, it is a deeply sentimental and personal book and I think in its own way it will be for everyone who reads it and, most of all, for anyone who cooks from it.


June LeBell, Groundbreaking Advocate For Classical Music, Dies

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by Steve Newborn on wusf.usf.edu:

June LeBell, a longtime advocate for classical music both nationally and in the Tampa Bay area, died Sunday in Sarasota.

Her husband, Ed Alley, posted on her Facebook page that after a five-year battle with cancer, June passed away peacefully at her home at about 7 p.m.

LeBell was the first female announcer on a major commercial classical music radio station in the U.S., remaining behind the microphone at WQXR for almost 30 years. In that time, she earned 17 important awards for outstanding broadcasts, interviewed hundreds of music celebrities, wrote a cookbook with illustrations by Al Hirschfeld, and had articles published in Opera News, Gourmet, Stagebill, The New York Times and – most recently – the Observer Group in Sarasota, where she was the music critic and a contributing columnist.

She hosted June LeBell’s Musical Conversations on WSMR, which is operated by WUSF Public Media. She was also the host of Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s Music Monday Lecture Series.

Today – May 1 – would have been June and Ed’s 8th wedding anniversary.

Here is an interview with LeBell by WXQR from last year, called Catching Up With June LeBell.


June LeBell, Iconic WQXR Host and ‘Quintessential New Yorker,’ Dies at 73

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by James Bennett,II on WQXR.org:

June LeBell, a longtime host for WQXR and the first woman to announce for a major commercial classical radio station, died of ovarian cancer on Sunday, April 30. She was 73 years old.

For nearly 30 years, LeBell graced WQXR with her friendly personality and deep knowledge of its musical subject matter. During her time with the station, she interviewed many notable musicians, composers and critics. Recognitions for her on-air legacy and accomplishments were many, among them a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broadcasters Club of Florida and a Gabriel Award for outstanding broadcasts. She was also named a “Quintessential New York Woman” by Town and Country Magazine.

LeBell was born in New York City in 1944, and her early years and education revolved around music. She attended the High School of Music and Art and continued her education at the Mannes College of Music (now Mannes School of Music), and graduated from the Hartt School of music. She built a career as a professional singer; her teachers were Adele Addison and Martial Singher. LeBelle performed recitals in Tanglewood and Aspen, and also toured Europe.

in 1973, the 29-year-old LeBell joined WQXR as not only its first woman host, but that of any major commercial classical radio station. Every Wednesday evening, listeners were treated to the sound of her voice on “IBM’s Salute to the Arts,” an award-winning musical documentary program.

One of her shows, “Kitchen Classics,” was a spirited focus on the intersection of two of LeBell’s great loves: music and food. Her guests — who included Julia Child, Itzhak Perlman, Marilyn Horne and many others — would engage in discussions about their favorite foods, while LeBell shared appropriately curated musical selections. A natural outgrowth of this program was a cookbook, Kitchen Classics from the Philharmonic (Doubleday, 1992), which paired close looks of various personalities from a century and a half of New York Philharmonic history with a recipe to match.

LeBell is remembered fondly by her colleagues. Nimet Habachy, a fellow WQXR host and a close friend, considers herself extremely fortunate to have known LeBell over the years. As the only two women at WQXR for a time, she noted how LeBell “just took her in” and described a blossoming professional and personal friendship. “She was a good lady and exciting to be around,” said Habachy. LeBell was active, ready to play a part in the larger community. “She was always vibrant, and I loved her.”

Morning show host Jeff Spurgeon also had the pleasure of working with LeBell. “I think she loved her life and was grateful for all the opportunities she’d known. She was supportive of her colleagues and remained interested in us and in WQXR even after she left New York and began the new chapter of her life in Florida,” said Spurgeon. “It’s no surprise that she became a part of the cultural scene in Sarasota — he loved celebrating the arts and knew how to do it well.”

In addition to her work with WQXR, LeBell served on the advisory boards of the Bloomingdale School of Music and the High School of Music and Art, as well as the auxiliary board of the New York Philharmonic. She also shared her vast knowledge with others in lectures across the city. She hosted the lecture series “The Sound of Broadway” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and other cultural institutions she spoke at included the Guggenheim and the Whitney Museums.

In her later home of Sarasota, Florida, LeBell hosted Music Mondays at the Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning.


Life Lessons From June LeBell

May 3rd, 2017Posted by admin

Article written by Fred Plotkin on WQXR.org:

June LeBell, WQXR’s first female announcer and a beloved member of the station’s family, died in Sarasota, Fla. on April 30, a day after her 73rd birthday and one day before her eighth wedding anniversary with Edward Alley, a musician and arts manager whom she “treasured and adored,” as she told me.

She was a proud New Yorker, born in 1944 at Knickerbocker Hospital in Harlem and raised in the city. She graduated from the High School of Music and Art in 1961 and had a full career in broadcasting, writing and performing in New York before moving to Sarasota after 9/11.

She (and Ed) fought the good fight after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. They continued to live life meaningfully, full of music, good food and friends. June, through her example but also through her speaking and writing, taught many of us to savor the beauty life has to offer for whatever time we have.

June was very open about her illness. She asked me to share it in an article I wrote about her on Feb. 23, 2016. Last December she wrote, “I’ve learned a lot from this surgery and all the side effects: I adore and cherish my husband. He does so much for me and I’m so grateful. Pain really interferes with life and changes personality (I’m trying to overcome that) … When I get my strength back, I’ll be grateful to have a body, no matter the shape. Ed and I married just 7 years ago … We traveled, swam with dolphins and adored each other, thinking we were fine. Know what? We were. Be careful what you pray and wish for. Sometimes we have everything and don’t stop to appreciate it!”

In June’s three decades at WQXR and then during her years in Sarasota, she lived a life of speaking, teaching, broadcasting and sharing everything she loved. If you know me and my work, you realize that June and I had many overlapping passions. Some people might have behaved competitively but June was remarkably encouraging to younger people who shared her interests, showed talent, and were willing to work very hard. For many years she worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. She was an example of the dictum that there are no short cuts if you want to do superb work. I do my best to honor her example.

June was a remarkable interviewer whose preparation as a musician and researcher enabled her to ask questions that elicited responses both sincere and original. If she caught you off guard, it was not to make you uncomfortable but to have you say things you might not have realized you knew.

She respected all of her guests and only claimed to have been starstruck twice — with George Balanchine and Walter Cronkite. I know public figures who were starstruck upon meeting her, but she always put them at ease. Being interviewed by June meant having a conversation in which you learned from her while she let her audience learn from you.

June also understood that the arts can teach us things, through example and emotion, that more literal study might fail to reveal. On March 5, she published a review in the Observer of Sarasota Opera’s production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. In the opera, the Old Prioress dies a visibly painful death, very likely of cancer. It is very difficult to watch even if you are not battling this illness, so I read June’s description with care: “Played with a startling terror of death by Lisa Chavez, her cry for Mother Marie of the Incarnation is a sure sign this is not going to be an easy death for this otherwise kind and wise Prioress who’s led the order for about a dozen years.” This was June: passionate and dispassionate at the same time.

On April 24, she posted on Facebook: “We called in Hospice. They’re coming to us and they seem wonderful. Bringing a hospital bed today. They’re here for both life and transition. It’s time. I’ll try to stay in touch and update you as much as I can. You’ve all been great supporters and the love and prayers have helped tremendously. I can’t thank you enough! I’m hanging around a bit. Maybe. Not scared. Very calm and at peace. Love you.”

When the Empire State Building was lit in blue last Dec. 3 to celebrate WQXR’s 80th anniversary. June wrote “It was an honor to work for this great station for 30 years and to be its very first female staff announcer. When you’re doing it, you don’t think of it as historic or anything but being very fortunate to be making a career at the nation’s best and best-known commercial classical station. Looking back, I’m bowled over by the memories and colleagues. I worked with the best of the best and they taught me! Duncan Pirnie, Matt Thomas, Peter Allen, George Edwards, Hugh Morgan, Mel Elliot, wow! And our engineering staff, Doc, Herb, Phil, Al, Maurice. What a legacy. And, of course Bob Sherman and George Jellinek. And then Nimet and Clayelle, Candice, and Midge, who came after me. Was I ever blessed. Shine proudly blue Empire State Building for WQXR at 80.”

Our light is momentarily dimmed but our memories of June LeBell will continue to burn bright. To remember June, I will listen to this performance of Brahms Lieder by Christa Ludwig and Leonard Bernstein. Her favorite, she said, was “Mainacht” (“May Night”) which comes at 13:10.


Remembering June LeBell, the voice of Sarasota’s music community

May 2nd, 2017Posted by admin

Known for her warmth and expertise, the singer, music critic, radio personality and lecturer died Sunday, April 30.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: May 1, 2017
by: Nick Friedman | Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

One didn’t need to meet June LeBell to feel like she was a friend. In fact, many felt a connection to the music writer, radio personality and lecturer through her voice alone.

June LeBell died Sunday, April 30, after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 73.

For those who knew her —and for many who didn’t — LeBell’s voice is the first thing to come to mind.

For 30 years, it rang out across the airwaves in New York City to greet WQXR’s evening listeners. As the first female announcer on a major commercial classical music radio station, she interviewed some of the biggest names in the arts — composer Aaron Copland, former artistic director of the New York City Ballet George Balanchine — and countless others. She earned 17 awards for her broadcasts, as well as the Florida Broadcasters Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

A graduate of the High School of Music and Art and the Mannes College of Music in New York City, and the Hartt College of Music in Connecticut, she lent her voice to both creating music and sharing her love for the art. In addition to being a radio host, she was also a professional concert singer, as well as a lecturer, leading her long-running Metropolitan Museum of Art series, “The Sound of Broadway” and Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning’s Musical Conversations.

No matter the outlet, she loved connecting musicians and music lovers.

“Through those live interviews and performances, thousands of people got to know her,” says Joseph Holt, artistic director of Choral Artists of Sarasota, who shared hosting duties at Musical Conversations’ Venice sessions. “In the same way you see actors onscreen and they resonate with you, watching June, you felt like friends. A lot of people felt very close to her — not only through her experience on the radio in New York City, but also down here. You could look up at a room of 800 to 1,000 people, and all of them feel like they’re best friends with the commentator. She had a unique gift for making that happen.”

Following 9/11, LeBell left New York City and moved to Sarasota, where she wrote for The Observer as music critic. Observer Group Vice President Lisa Walsh recalls the first time they spoke.

“She called me out of the blue and said she wanted to write reviews for The Observer,” says Walsh. “Of course, I knew who she was; I was taken back at first. She had such a beautiful voice — as smooth as velvet. She had me at hello. She brought such a wealth of knowledge, which along with her great personality, added so much to our artistic community.”

LeBell wrote weekly music reviews and other columns for The Observer, where she fostered the growth of local musicians with both a critical ear and gracious writing. She especially loved opera.

Richard Russell, executive director of the Sarasota Opera, first met LeBell in 2005, when she was directing the performing arts center at The Glenridge and he was starting a position as the opera’s marketing director.

As he reached out to Sarasota’s journalists, LeBell was one of the first on his list.

“I had known June’s voice for many years,” says Russell. “I grew up in the New York City area, listening to WQXR, so I was familiar with her voice, and I was excited to meet her in person after having listened to her for so long. For someone with such an incredible career and so much knowledge and experience, she was such a warm person. She made me feel so welcome, like I was talking to an old friend. I had scheduled an hour for our lunch, but we stayed and talked for much longer. Anyone who went to one of her SILL lectures recognized her warmth. I hope she’s remembered for that.”

LeBell went on hospice care Tuesday, April 24, updating friends and family on Facebook.

“We called in hospice. They’re coming to us, and they seem wonderful. Bringing a hospital bed today. They’re here for both life and transition. It’s time. I’ll try to stay in touch and update you as much as I can. You’ve all been great supporters and the love and prayers have helped tremendously. I can’t thank you enough! I’m hanging around a bit. Maybe. Not scared. Very calm and at peace. Love you!”

LeBell’s husband Edward Alley says her sparkling personality — and trademark grace — shone through until the end.

“June was a truly remarkable human being,” he wrote online in a statement Sunday. “Talented, loving and gifted beyond belief in so many ways. We will all miss her very much. Yesterday was her 73rd birthday, and tomorrow is our eighth wedding anniversary. Elegant timing as always. My thoughts go out to all of you who will also miss her so very much.”

Alley says a funeral service and reception will be announced soon in Sarasota and a memorial service and reception will be held at Marble Collegiate church in New York City. In lieu of flowers, contributions should be made to Tidewell Hospice, Sarasota Orchestra or Sarasota Opera.