Blues pianist Ann Rabson, a founding member of the popular blues band Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women, passed away on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 in Fredericksburg, Virginia after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 67 years old.
A talented pianist, singer, and songwriter Rabson actually began her career in the blues as a guitarist, teaching herself the instrument at the young age of 17. Inspired by artists like Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, and Big Bill Broonzy, she spent much of the 1960s performing as a solo artist and honing her skills. Rabson moved to Fredericksburg in 1971, were she worked as a computer programmer and taught guitar while playing music at night.
In 1984, Rabson formed Saffire with one of her guitar students, Gaye Adegbalola, and they began gigging around Virginia. They added bassist Earlene Lewis (replaced by Andra Faye McIntosh in 1992) to make Saffire an acoustic trio. The band sent a demo tape to Alligator Records in 1989 and they were quickly signed by the label. Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women released their self-titled debut album in 1990 and would go on to record a total of eight albums for the label before breaking up in 2009 after 25 years.
During the band's quarter-century together, they were a popular concert and festival draw, and their albums for Alligator remain among the best-selling in the label's catalog. Rabson released her solo debut, Music Makin' Mama, on Alligator in 1997, the album showcasing her many talents as a blueswoman, ranging musically from piano-driven boogie-woogie and R&B to Piedmont blues. Rabson would release three more solo albums for different labels, her most recent being 2012's Not Alone, recorded with legendary guitarist Bob Margolin.
Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, Rabson's long-time friend and producer, says Ann was a driving force in the blues world. "Our dear friend Ann Rabson was an extraordinary blues singer, pianist and guitarist and a delightful, smart and funny person," he says in a press release. "As a founding member of Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women, a solo recording artist and a live performer, she brought her talent, intelligence and intense love for the blues tradition to every piece of music she played and sang. Ann never gave her music or the rest of her life less than 100% of her commitment. 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."
"The blues world is sad to lose one of our bright lights," says Bob Margolin. "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."
Ann Rabson photo courtesy Alligator Records