R.I.P. Barbara Maier Gustern

Barbara Maier Gustern. Photo by Heather Quinlan
photo by Heather Quinlan

We just got the bad but somewhat expected news that beloved vocal teacher Barbara Maier Gustern has passed away from her injuries sustained from an unprovoked attack a few days ago. “Unprovoked” puts it mildly. She was 87 and tiny, light as a feather. Full of personality and energy, but she did seem delicate. What kind of cowardice and evil would cause someone to do something like this? We’ll find out before much more time has elapsed. As reported by all the local papers and TV stations, there is CCTV footage of the culprit, a healthy looking young woman with an undoubtedly sick mind. This is her:

I reckon we’ll learn her motive, but it won’t help. Barbara’s kindness and her gifts as a teacher literally touched thousands of people, between her pupils and their audiences. Her pupils included Debbie Harry, Austin Pendleton and Barbara Bleier, Penny Arcade, Murray Hill, Justin Vivian Bond, Our Lady J, Taylor Mac, Tammy Fay Starlight, Molly Pope, Lady Rizo, Jenny Lee Mitchell, Carol Lipnik, and on one mortifying occasion, ME. She was very gracious, and like I said, KIND. I’m a very barbaric singer; working with me in that capacity must be like teaching a bowling ball to swim. But she didn’t bat an eye — and she had STUNNING eyes. Like headlights. I’d hate to have ’em glaring at me! But that’s not how she rolled.

As I mentioned, I knew her mostly from my perspective as an arts journalist, and usually encountered her at the shows of friends and others, whom she’d tutored. Here are some of those pieces:

Gay City News (2009), an all star show at Joe’s Pub

Benefit celebration for trans performers at Joes’ Pub (Travalanche, 2014)

AMNY (2016) A piece on a concert she did with Austin Pendleton and Barbara Bleier at Pangea

Companion piece to the above on the Trav-a-log (my other blog) which also features pictures of Dan Hermann from our original reading of “I’ll Say She Is”, who also passed away this week.

AMNY (2016) Tammy Faye Starlight at Pangea (and many other pieces on TFS on Travalanche)

And any other cabaret shows by the likes of Tammy Fate Starlight, Jenny Lee Mitchell, and others I may have touted here or elsewhere, Barbara almost certainly had a hand in.

Barbara was still mourning the loss of her husband Joe, who died just a few years ago. There is some comfort in the thought that they are reunited. But not in the fact that there are homicidal maniacs walking our streets. If you’re interested in taking some POSITIVE action, Barbara’s favorite charity, Holy Apostle’s Soup Kitchen is accepting donations here).

Anyway do not be shocked if there is some kind of all-star memorial concert for Barbara in a few weeks. I sure won’t! It’ll be sad, but also likely joyous. That is the nature of her legacy.

EPILOGUE, March 22: After nearly two whole weeks, they appear to have gotten the culprit. She’s from Port Jefferson: https://deadline.com/2022/03/barbara-maier-gustern-lauren-pazienza-arrest-homicide-broadway-singing-coach-1234984053/

Gustern’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday, March 26 at 2 p.m. ET at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.