Jane Little, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Bassist for 71 Years, Dies Onstage

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Bassist for 71 Years Passes Away Onstage While Performing
By BP Staff ,

Earlier this year, 87-year-old bassist Jane Little earned the Guinness Book of World Records award for longest professional tenure with a single orchestra after performing weekly with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for 71 years. On Sunday May 15th, Little collapsed onstage while performing "There's No Business Like Show Business" with her orchestra. She was carried backstage by her fellow bassists, but never regained consciousness.

After joining the symphony in 1945 at the age of 16, the self-taught bass dynamo became a favorite amongst the ASO musicians and their loyal audiences. After her father acquired a bass for her early in life, 4'11" Little practiced daily until she had mastered classic compositions and decided to try her luck at joining the symphony. She landed a chair immediately and played with the orchestra without pay for several years before she was eventually given $35 every other week for her services. 

While playing in the orchestra she met the love of her life, flutist Warren Little, whom she was married to for 41 years until he passed away in 2002.

(Pictured here with her late husband)

“When I met Warren, I was very impressed that he played a small instrument, so he could carry my bass around!” said Little. 

“We can say that Jane was fortunate to do what she loved until the very end of her storied life and career,” the symphony said in a Facebook post. “The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was truly blessed to have Jane as part of our family for the past 71 years and we all miss her passion, vitality, spirit and incredible talent.” 

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra offered this on Jane Little's passing:

With great sadness, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra shares news of the passing of one of its original performers, Jane Little, 87, who lost consciousness on stage during a performance on Sunday, May 15, 2016.

As witnessed by fellow musicians and the audience in attendance, Little collapsed 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 Crawford Long Emory Hospital where she later passed away.

Little was Assistant Principal Bass Emeritus in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She celebrated her 87th birthday on Feb. 2, 2016, and on Feb. 4, 2016, she 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. The Orchestra’s application for Jane Little’s record is under review pending final approval.

Little started her musical career in 1945 as a founding member of the original Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra, the forerunner of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. 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 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musician and principal flute, Warren Little. They were inseparable until Warren’s death in 2002. Jane and Warren had no children; Ms. Little is survived by her nephews and several great nieces and nephews. 

For more information on the life and music of Jane Little: CLICK HERE