“America’s First Young Lady of the Fiddle”


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So wrote the author and music critic Louis Biancolli of Jeanne Mitchell, a globally ascendant young concert violinist who made her mark in the 1940s and 1950s before fate and family life sidelined her career.

Biancolli married Mitchell — yes, after he wrote that review — in 1958. They had two children: Lucy, a Harvard-educated concert pianist who died in 1992, and Amy, an arts journalist and author of three books based in Albany, NY.

That’s me. Amy. I cover local arts for the Times Union and blog at figuringshitout.net, where I often write about my late family, my mother included. But I’ll be using this site to highlight her career in particular with photos, reviews, programs and some of her recordings.

My mother had a significant global career, earning raves nationally and internationally, but she never became a recording star or a household name. The Dutch label that signed her to a contract folded shortly after cutting her first album; the tapes were lost.

She always told this story with a shrug and an air of resignation, the same shrug and air she displayed when talking about the sexism that marked and eventually derailed her career.  After having her daughters in the early 1960s, she found her career was over — a tale all too familiar to women in male-dominated fields. Jeanne Mitchell was neither the first nor the last woman to temporarily step away from her profession only to find, a few years later, no room for a return.

So she taught. She gave little concerts to small, appreciative audiences in Connecticut, some of them recorded. And she kept working on her music, bringing the genius of Bach, Bartok, Kreisler, Franck, Haydn and more to life with astonishing musicianship and profound emotional heft. Her gift at the fiddle never faded. She played with grace and urgency until her death in 1994.

My mother was an indelible personality.  Fiercely smart, wickedly funny, prone to outbursts of drop-dead bluntness, she was a woman of deep wisdom and an even deeper well of strength. Both came through in her playing. Both are still audible, decades later, in the fuzzy old tapes I pulled from my attic and have started to upload here. To hear them is to know her. To know her is to miss her.  On this site — in little ways, in little photos and memories and snatches of music — she lives.