Jane Little (Courtesy ASO)
Jane Little (Courtesy ASO)

Celebrated Atlanta Symphony Orchestra member Jane Little passed away at age 87 after a performance on Sunday at Symphony Hall. Little lost consciousness on stage during an encore performance of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Though emergency responders and a medically-trained chorus member briefly revived Little, she was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital where she later passed away.

Little was Assistant Principal Bass Emeritus in the ASO. She celebrated her 87th birthday on Feb. 2 and two days later  performed with the orchestra, marking 71 years to the day of her first concert held on Feb. 4, 1945, securing the Guinness World Record for longest professional tenure with a single orchestra.

Little started her musical career in 1945 as a founding member of the original Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra, the forerunner of the ASO. She joined after two years of studying bass in high school and has since played under all four of the orchestra’s music directors, – Henry Sopkin, Robert Shaw, Yoel Levi and Robert Spano, as well as guest conductors including Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Pierre Monteux, Leopold Stokowski, Sir John Barbirolli and James Levine, among others.

The double bass is the orchestra’s largest instrument. Wrapping one’s hands around a bass requires a great degree of physical strength — something that at 87-years-old and 4 feet, 11 inches, Little did with ease for more than seven decades.

An Atlanta native, Little 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 of the American Ballet Theatre, Covent Garden Ballet, and Boris Goldovsky Opera Theatre. Twenty years ago this July, Little performed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic opening and closing ceremonies with “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” composer/conductor John Williams.

For most of her career, Little performed using a rare Carlo Giuseppi Testore bass built in the year 1705. In 1953 she met and married fellow ASO musician and principal flute, Warren Little. They were inseparable until Warren’s death in 2002.

As noted in February 2016 national and local media reports on her world record performance, Little was a fighter who overcame recent illnesses, including multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. She returned to the orchestra in February after suffering a fall last year.

“Jane Little was an inspiration for many reasons: 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,” said Jennifer Barlament, Executive Director of the ASO, in a statement to the media.

Memorial service details will be announced soon.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.