Joanne Rogers has died. An accomplished concert pianist who also embraced—but never allowed herself to be overshadowed by—her role as the wife and widow of children’s entertainer Fred Rogers, Rogers spent years touring the country as a musician while also supporting her husband’s legacy as a public figure and messenger for the ever-present importance of kindness. Per The Wrap, Rogers died earlier today, at the age of 91. No cause of death was listed.
Raised in Jacksonville Florida, Rogers (née Sarah Joanne Byrd) began playing piano at the age of 5, devoting her life to music pretty much from that moment onward. Among other things, her talents took her to Florida’s Rollins College, where she met two people who would shape much of the rest of her life: Her long-time performing partner, Jeannine Morrison, and her future husband.
Byrd married Fred Rogers in 1952, with the pair remaining together until his death from stomach cancer in 2003. Although supportive of her husband’s career in children’s education and entertainment—and devoting much of her time, in the years since his death, to promoting those same causes through her work with non-profit Fred Rogers Productions—Rogers continued to practice and pursue her art in its own right. In a New York Times profile of her written last year—timed to the release of A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, which Rogers consulted on and cameos in, in the moment where Tom Hanks’ version of her husband asks for a minute of silence—her sons emphasized how important her music was to her life, her career, and her relationship with her husband, including many duets between the two, and the release of two albums with Morrison.
But while Rogers’ active career and artistic pursuits ensured that she was never “just” Mrs. Fred Rogers, she did seem happy to embrace, in later life, her role as the steward of her husband’s legacy of kindness. In addition to her work with Fred Rogers Productions, she spoke often about his values and goals for children’s entertainment, emphasizing his role as her best friend, and happily acknowledging the feelings of the numerous children his work helped raise through complicated and tumultuous times.
Rogers is survived by her two sons, Jim and John.