The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and metro music fans today are mourning the death of longtime ASO bassist Jane Little. Little, 87, lost consciousness onstage near the end of Sunday’s Golden Age of Broadway concert and died later at Grady Memorial Hospital.
She was a 1945 charter member of the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra, the forerunner to the ASO. She joined after studying bass in high school for two years and has since played under all four ASO music directors — Henry Sopkin, Robert Shaw, Yoel Levi and Robert Spano — as well as such guest conductors as Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Pierre Monteux, Leopold Stokowski, Sir John Barbirolli and James Levine.
She set a Guinness World Record for having the longest tenure with an orchestra.
As witnessed by fellow musicians and audience members, Little collapsed during an encore of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Emergency responders and a medically trained chorus member briefly revived her, and she was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital, where she later died.
Little was the ASO’s assistant principal bass emeritus. She celebrated her 87th birthday on Feb. 2, and on Feb. 4, performed with the orchestra, marking 71 years to the day of her first concert. The ASO’s application for her Guinness record is awaiting official certification.
The double bass is the orchestra’s largest instrument. Wrapping one’s hands around a bass requires a great degree of physical strength — something the 4-foot-11 Little did with relative ease for more than seven decades.
Little, an Atlanta native, attended the University of Georgia and studied for four years with the principal bass player of the Chicago Symphony. She was principal bass with the Theater of the Stars Orchestra for 15 years, and played extensively with regional ballet and opera companies, as well as in touring performances by the American Ballet Theatre, Covent Garden Ballet and Boris Goldovsky Opera Theatre. She also performed in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games with composer/conductor John Williams.
For most of her career, Little used a rare Carlo Giuseppi Testore bass built in 1705. In 1953 she met and married ASO principal flute Warren Little. They were inseparable until his death in 2002. They had no children; Little is survived by her nephews and several great-nieces and nephews.
In February, in national and local press reports about her world record performance, Little was portrayed as a fighter who overcame recent illnesses, including multiple myeloma. She returned to the orchestra in February after recovering from a fall last year.
“Jane Little was an inspiration for many reasons,” said Jennifer Barlament, ASO executive director. “She was a woman who succeeded in a role traditionally reserved for men; she was a person of modest stature who played the biggest instrument in the orchestra; she was tenacious, miraculously fighting off multiple health challenges to tag her world record; and she was passionate, doing what she loved until the very end of her life.”
While talking to the press about her world record-setting performance, Little enjoyed sharing her plans for retirement at the end of this ASO season. She planned take up bass guitar and form a jazz group she named “The Grannies.”
Memorial service details are pending.