Bassist possibly set world record for longest tenure with orchestra

Jane Little collapsed onstage during a concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, of which she had been part of for 71 years.
Jane Little collapsed onstage during a concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, of which she had been part of for 71 years.

NEW YORK • A bassist who likely set a world record by playing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for 71 years has died doing what she loved, after she collapsed onstage during a concert.

Jane Little, 87, lost consciousness on Sunday as the orchestra performed There's No Business Like Show Business, the encore to a concert of Broadway tunes.

With the audience watching, Little was revived by a chorus member who had medical training, but the orchestra on Monday announced her death at a hospital.

She was an original member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, first performing in 1945, the year the classical institution was founded in the city often considered the capital of the United States South.

As extraordinary as her duration in the orchestra, Little - true to her name - stood at only 1.5m tall, but handled one of the most cumbersome instruments - at the time the preserve of male musicians.

"I must be the smallest bass player in the country right now in a major symphony," she told Atlanta television station WXIA earlier this year.

"I've had to work a lot harder to do what I do," she said.

Little said she had wanted to be a ballerina and then an opera singer, but took up the string bass as the instrument was sitting around at her all-girls high school - and the school's orchestra needed someone to play it.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra said she had played every season since her start 71 years earlier, in what it believed was a world record for the longest continuous tenure in a professional orchestra.

The institution submitted her information this year to the Guinness Book of World Records, which is assessing the feat.

Little, an Atlanta native who studied at the nearby University of Georgia, performed under legendary guest conductors including Russian Igor Stravinsky and American Aaron Copland.

She also played under the baton of Star Wars composer John Williams during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

She married the orchestra's principal flautist, who died in 2002, and kept playing despite suffering from cancer and a fall last year, although she planned to retire after the current season.

Ms Jennifer Barlament, executive director of the orchestra, said in a statement: "Jane Little was an inspiration for many reasons. She was a woman who succeeded in a role traditionally reserved for men; she was a person of modest stature who played the biggest instrument in the orchestra; she was tenacious, miraculously fighting off multiple health challenges to tag her world record; and she was passionate, doing what she loved until the very end of her life."

The orchestra said it was dedicating its weekend performances to her.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Bassist possibly set world record for longest tenure with orchestra'. Print Edition | Subscribe