1st photo: Janet Wolfe. 2nd photo: From left to right are Liz Player, Amy Fraser, Melvin Greenwich, Ashley Horne and Janet Wolfe.
Janet Wolfe, Advisor
(April 8, 1014 - November 30, 2015)
Founder and Executive Director of the Housing Symphony Orchestra
(a.k.a. New York City Housing Authority Symphony Orchestra)
Janet Wolfe, founder of the New York City Housing Symphony Orchestra, was a long-time patron of minority musicians. She hosted a gala benefit concert at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall featuring many of New York City's finest minority musicians every February in honor of Black History Month. The NYC Housing Symphony Orchestra has a rich history that began back in 1971 with Janet Wolfe, a single mother of two daughters, who founded the classical orchestra for NYCHA residents. Simeon Golar, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chairman at the time, is said to have asked Ms. Wolfe to create the orchestra as a way to expose NYCHA residents to classical music—a genre of music that he wished he had been exposed to as a child. "We're trying to broaden their outlook," says Wolfe "especially the children." The orchestra also provided performance opportunities for minority musicians in a town where paid gigs can be scarce. The group became less a full orchestra in recent years than a set of smaller string, woodwind, brass and jazz ensembles that perform in the courtyards and community centers of the city's public housing developments and throughout New York City.
1st photo: Janet Wolfe and Liz Player. 2nd photo: Grandsons Jake and Sam Matlovsky with Janet Wolfe. 3rd photo: Janet Wolfe on stage at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall with the orchestra, February 2012.
Impressive is the star-studded group of patrons who have supported her work—a list that includes former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Harry Belafonte and Max Roach. Mr. Roach once said of Janet: "She has provided more work for Black, Hispanic and Asian players than anyone in New York. It's probably the only orchestra in the country that gives minority musicians, including Black composers and conductors, an opportunity to perform classical music with a symphony orchestra." A champion of the NYC Housing Symphony Orchestra, Max Roach performed twice with the group. Ms. Wolfe always had the ability to attract some famous musicians to play with and for the orchestra, including the late former associate principal horn player of the New York Philharmonic Jerome Ashby and pianist/conductor Awadagin Pratt among many, many others. Just about every classical musician of color and accomplishment in New York knew Janet or has played with the NYC Housing Symphony Orchestra at some point or another.
Janet Wolfe's efforts were featured in various articles in the media such as the New York Times, the Daily News and on the website Africlassical.com. Ralph Blumenthal wrote in an article in the New York Times, published August 8, 1996 in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the New York City Housing Authority Symphony “when it comes to putting live classical music where the people are, the New York City Housing Authority Symphony plays second fiddle to none. The orchestra and its chamber ensembles have been concertizing free in plazas of the city's 340 public housing developments. They introduce audiences who might not make it to Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center to live classical and jazz performances, and in particular they showcase black musicians long under-represented in the classical concert halls."
1st photo: The young Janet Wolfe. 2nd photo: The younger Janet Wolfe with the Housing Symphony Orchestra. 3rd photo: Janet Wolfe at 4 years old.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Janet besides her spirit, longevity and the work she has done is that she really did care about people and was always there with her help and support. Janet Wolfe's work and legacy was also the inspiration behind the creation of a new group, The Harlem Chamber Players, of which Janet was a founding board member and loyal supporter. The group and the series' founder Liz Player hopes to continue Janet's legacy well into the future, providing a platform for musicians of color and bringing high caliber, affordable and accessible live chamber music to people in the Harlem community and beyond.
OBITUARY in the New York Times
WOLFE--Janet, passed away peacefully November 30 at home surrounded by her loving family. She was 101 years old. Born in NYC in 1914, Janet attended Dalton, Ethical Culture, and the Northampton School for Girls. During WWII, she served in the American Red Cross in Rome. After the war, she worked with Roberto Rosselini on Paisan, toured with Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, and taught the rhumba to Arthur Murray. She married composer Sandy Matlovsky in 1952 and had two daughters, Alisa and Deborah. Throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's, Janet was the inspiration for a series of short stories in the New Yorker's Talk of The Town. In 1971, she founded the NYCHA Symphony Orchestra, giving opportunity and visibility to classical musicians of color. She served as its executive director for over 40 years. Janet is survived by her two adoring daughters and two beloved grandsons, Jake and Sam.
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