Cornelius Reid — “That’s what kept him going.”

Cornelius Reid

Last October I interviewed Cornelius Reid in his apartment on New York’s Upper West Side, its cozy living room dominated by a grand piano. “So, you’re a voice teacher?” I asked.

“I just teach people what I know,” he responded, a little tartly. “I teach them how to make music.”

Self-taught, Reid developed a set of principles rooted in the Bel Canto era that made him a legend in the New York performing-arts community. Sixty-seven years later, despite being a little under the weather from radiation treatments, he was still giving seven or eight lessons a day, five and a half days a week. In the clip below he describes how the fatigue — and the years — fall away when he sits down with a student.

Last week Reid’s wife Donna called to tell me that Cornelius had died on February 3rd, four days shy of his 97th birthday. She wanted me to know that he’d been teaching up until 11 days before his death. “He got to the point where he had to use a walker to get the piano. It would take a while,” said Donna. “But when he got there he would sit himself down and teach his lesson. That’s what kept him going.”

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