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A Mother and Child Reunion (Rest in Peace, Phoebe Snow)

No I wouldn't give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But a mother and child reunion
Is only a motion a way . . . .

"Mother and Child Reunion," Paul Simon

I opened my different email accounts today to find three messages telling me that Phoebe Snow had passed. A close friend of mine wrote that I was the only one who could understand his grief. He was wrong. Others were grieving, too.

Despite my grief, I'm happy for Phoebe Snow's release from these earthly bonds and hope she is having a reunion with her daughter Valerie. Valerie, who had been born with severe brain damage, died in 2007 at the age of 31, and Ms. Snow had been her primary caretaker her entire life. Despite Ms. Snow's musical genius, she gave up touring and promoting her career to devote herself to her daughter. With no regrets.

I was blessed to see Phoebe Snow perform on a magical evening on August 22, 2008 at the University of California, Davis quad under the stars. This performance took place perhaps a year after Valerie had passed, if I recall correctly. There were people with signs and flowers, all professing their love for her and saying how much she had been missed. When a little girl came forward to offer her flowers, she hugged the little girl with a depth of gratitude that was palpable and visible across her face.

She explained her absence from the public and her profound loss. She seemed a bit adrift, as if she were still getting used to the loss, as if it had happened only weeks ago. And she gave her all, running the musical gamut from "Poetry Man" to "Teach Me Tonight" to Janis Joplin's "A Piece of My Heart." All with equal skill, as if it were nothing to skip from folk to jazz to rock to R & B and everything in between. Like it was nothing.

And that was the magic of Phoebe Snow. She defied categories because she could skip from one to another and perform within them with equal excellence. Her range, her mastery of different musical styles, she was just plain magical. I've always said that the best singers are those who have such a unique voice that you know them the second you hear them and who have been great students of other excellent singers as shown in their own singing style. Phoebe Snow will always rank among the best singers ever in my book. There was so much more to her than "Poetry Man." My favorite Phoebe Snow song is her remake of "Love Makes A Woman," one, because she sang it out the park, and two, because it would be prescient: I think even she would have agreed that it was her love for Valerie that made her a woman.

I'm sad for the world's loss of this magically talented woman, but I'm hopeful that a mother and child reunion between Phoebe and Valerie is only a motion away.


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