A Memorial Tribute in Words for Wesla Whitfield, by Russ Button

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As a member of the San Francisco Audiophile Society, you live for the sheer beauty and loveliness of great music.   We hope that our audio systems bring back to life musical magic.   We sit spellbound reveling in the clarity and detail a great system can reveal.
Last Friday, Feb 8th, we lost one of the finest interpreters of the Great American Song when Welsa Whitfield passed on.    For the last 35 years or so she has been enthralling audiences in San Francisco, the Algonquin room in New York and everywhere in between.
Many audiophiles have a fondness for Diana Krall, an especially beautiful woman with a sultry voice and vocal presentation.   It’s a very sensual to hear her on a good system.
But Wesla Whitfield did none of that.   Although she was pretty, being wheelchair bound definitely precluded the kinds of sensual images you would associate with someone like Diana Krall, or even Julie London.   “Sexy and sensual” is NOT how you’d describe her.  She was a story teller.  She was an actress.  That’s who she was as a singer.   When she sang a song, she told you a story and you believed her.
Instead of inspiring lust, Wesla inspired love.  And it’s not surprising given that when you heard her sing, it was with her husband and lifetime musical partner, Michael Greensill.    I’ve never heard a better, more musically sensitive accompanist.  Together they had a sense of time and swing that rivals anything Frank Sinatra ever did.
One thing you’ll notice about Wesla, she was never in a hurry to finish a song.  Her phrasing was never extreme or affected.  Every note was exactly as it should be.   Many young singers will take a song and turn the phrasing around trying to be original, thinking they’re putting their signature on the tune.  All they’ve done is to mangle it and detract from the song.  Like Johnny Hartman, Wesla Whitfield just sings the song and lets you hear the story that’s there.
This is truly great music and if you never had the good fortune to see Wesla and Michael  perform live together, then you have missed something very special.  You will not see anything quite this good again any year soon.
Wesla’s recordings are what you live for as an audiophile.  Her voice rings through pure and clear.   Most tracks will have piano and acoustic bass.  Some will also have guitar, drums or saxophone.   She only worked with the very best players the San Francisco area had to offer.  The drummer she worked with on her recordings was Vince Lateano, who for decades, has been the best in town.  One recording I have has Noel Jewkes on tenor and clarinet, and another I have features Al Cohn.  As good as it gets.
I don’t know that you’ll find her on your streaming service, but you can certainly find her recordings on Amazon and Discogs.  Worth every penny and effort to acquire.  There’s not a singer alive I love more than what Wesla Whitfield did.
The SF Chronicle tribute at:
https://www.sfgate.com/music/article/Wesla-Whitfield-elegant-jazz-and-cabaret-singer-12603692.php  speaks about her musicality and is a must read.  But what’s even more extraordinary is her personal story as revealed in this LA Times article from a few years ago:
As I mentioned before, she was wheelchair bound.   Back in the 1970’s, she has a career doing musical theatre as an actress and singer.  One day she was accosted by two 10 year old boys who demanded money from her.  She laughed at them, turned heel and walked away.  One boy pulled out a gun and shot her in the back, severing her spine.  She never walked again.
She pulled out of her depression and began singing again in piano bars and such where she met Michael Greensill.  They became a musical act and later, a lifetime partnership of music and love.   Their performance was more than just a good musical presentation.  It was the greatest of art and love shared with the rest of us.  The world is a much better place for her music being in it.
Here are some YouTube links to get some idea of what she can do.  Personally I like the live performances better because you can see her.  The studio recordings are technically perfect, but there’s something magical about watching her sing, regardless of the recording quality.
Over The Rainbow
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
My Foolish Heart (Live performance)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6WeyJRheAc
A Harry Warren Medley

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San Francisco Audiophile Society

San Francisco Audiophile Society