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Renowned blues artist, founder of Saffire, succumbs to cancer at age 67
Ann Rabson smiles to the hometown crowd in UMW's Dodd Auditorium during Saffire's final show here in 2009.
FILE/SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY MICHAEL ZITZ
Ann Rabson, a co-founder of the internationally known, Fredericksburg-based blues trio Saffire--The Uppity Blues Women, passed away Wednesday morning at the Hartwood home she shared with husband George Newman. She was 67.
She was critically acclaimed for her work both with Saffire and as a solo performer, particularly as a blues pianist. Rabson recorded eight albums with the group and one of her own for Alligator Records and did three solo albums for other labels.
Newman said she had battled several forms of cancer over the past five years.
He said that while she was undergoing chemotherapy, she recorded "Not Alone" with Bob Margolin, which has been nominated for a Memphis Blues Foundation Blues Music Award, formerly the W.C. Handy Award, for Best Acoustic Album of 2013.
"Ann was one of the smartest, funniest, most sardonic and most committed people I've ever met and her music was filled with all of those qualities," Bruce Iglauer, the founder and head of the independent blues record label Alligator Records in Chicago and one of Rabson's producers, said in a phone interview.
Rabson was born in New York and raised in Ohio before moving to Fredericksburg in 1971, where she worked as a computer science teacher at Germanna Community College, a musician and a guitar teacher.
She began playing a guitar found in her father's attic at age 17, and she idolized blues guitarists Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie.
Rabson didn't begin playing the piano until 35, but, influenced by Pinetop Perkins, came to be regarded as one of the best boogie-woogie pianists.
"She was committed to the blues tradition and loved exploring it and leading her listeners on a voyage of discovery," Alligator's Iglauer said. He said that when it came to blues piano and guitar, she absorbed that tradition "just like an amazing sponge but it always came out Ann Rabson. Her music was full of humor, it was full of energy and it was amazingly subtle. Ann's music always made me smile."