The untimely death of harpsichordist Frances Cole at age 45 in 1983 came as a shock to the Baroque music community in New York City and the vicinity. Cole had rapidly gained a high reputation among harpsichordists and other musicians in her field. She had served for a time as a music commentator on the long-running television series ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ and made two appearances during which she played her instrument on ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ a landmark television program for children. She taught at Westminster Choir College and Queens College. Her late colleague Kenneth Cooper called her “a superb player. Fran was a spicy, adventurous and unconventional lady, sharp-witted and very generous, much fun to be with. She had to be well-loved and well-respected to have attracted such an assemblage of genius, all, probably, gratis.”
After hearing some of the material on this CD, Cooper added, “It is amazingly adventurous and fearless playing, a most unusual feature at this moment in musical history. She and her playing are very much missed.”
Her legacy was almost forgotten, but Parnassus Records’ executive producer Leslie Gerber writes, “Having heard a broadcast of Cole’s playing in the late 1970s, I have been chasing some recording of her playing ever since. This decades-long quest has been facilitated by quite a number of people. Librarian Randye Jones enabled my contact with Westminster Choir College librarian Kenneth Kauffman, whose tapes I was able to bring to audio wizard Steve Smolian for preservation and restoration.”
Cole’s repertoire was surprisingly wide and eclectic, ranging from Baroque masterpieces to György Ligeti’s “Continuum”, heard here in what is one of the first American performances – if not the first – of this enormously challenging postwar masterpiece.
“The Lost Art of Frances Cole” is one of the first in Parnassus Records’ “Black Swans” series, showcasing rare classical recordings by Black artists.