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Arts and Entertainment Monday, May. 1, 2017 7 months ago

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

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

Edward Alley and June LeBell in 2011.

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.”

June LeBell with Avery Fisher

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.”

Edward Alley and June LeBell in 2012.

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!”

June LeBell with Kitty Carlisle Hart.

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.”

A funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Monday, May 8, at the Church of the Palms, 3224 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota. A future 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.

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