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87-year-old orchestral bassist dies during “There’s No Business Like Show Business”

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images)

It’s unusual that the trope “she died doing what she loved” is quite so literal, but with the death of Jane Little, we may have found the center of the Venn diagram of heartwarming and sad. Little was a bassist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and she died mid-performance on Sunday, during the song “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” reports The Washington Post. She was 87, and had been with the orchestra for 71 years. Little began playing in 1945, when she was 16 years old, and through her career, worked with such greats as conductors Igor Stravinksy and Robert Shaw, and pianists Van Cliburn and Arthur Rubenstein.

When Little was in high school, she wanted to join the glee club, and took a musical aptitude test. She did exceptionally well on it, and was asked to join the orchestra. Little thought she might want to play a smaller instrument like the clarinet or violin. The orchestra leader told her that they needed bass players. Little told Atlanta Magazine:

I was five-foot-three and weighed all of 98 pounds at the time, but she asked me to try it. She gave me lessons, and within a month, I was hooked. I loved it. It was awfully difficult to push those heavy strings down, and to carry the instrument around, but I just loved it.


Little set the Guinness World Record in February of this year for longest professional tenure with a single orchestra.

Honestly, after 71 years, I’m ready to retire. But I think it’s fantastic. I was competing with this woman out in Utah, who played 70 years, 69 of them with the Utah Symphony. When I heard she was retiring, I said, “I’m going for it!”

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