Debbie King, 71, backstage collaborator known as ‘Spirit of Carnegie Hall,’ dies


Paparazzi, fans and police officers filled a Fall Day alley outside Carnegie Hall in 1987, waiting for Frank Sinatra to arrive for a show. Inside, a backstage attendant named Debbie King stood on the sidelines, Concerned Regarding Sinatra’s reputation for being difficult.

As Carnegie Hall’s artist liaison, Ms. King worked one of the more rare jobs in New York showbiz. Like a nightly personal assistant, she was responsible for taking care of masters, soloists, and performers, and she paid attention to everyone, whether Itzhak Perlman or Sting, Audra McDonald or Andre Previn.

When sinatra arrived, her limousine was passing through the crowd, Ms. King went to pick her up. He lowered the window of his car.

“You can’t sing from the limo,” she said. “Are you planning to come out?”

“I’m coming out,” he said.

he got out.

“You’re not that tall,” she said.

“Sh,” he replied. “Don’t tell everyone.”

They laughed, and Ms. King took her to her dressing room, where she had prepared provisions including a bottle of Chivas Regal, chilled jumbo shrimp and Tootsie Rolls. She took him on stage on Showtime. Later, he gave A jacket adorned with his name, a generous tip rested inside it.

Ms. King died on September 20 at a hospital in Poughkeepsie, NY. She was 71 years old. His granddaughter Sonrisa Murray said the cause was liver cancer.

Although the conductor and soloists receive standing ovations at Carnegie Hall, their performances are supported by a troupe of usher, gatekeepers and backstage attendants. And for 34 years, Ms. King played her part.

In particular, she was responsible for the needs of the stars who used the Maestro Suite, a royal dressing room on the second floor.

“He is The soul of Carnegie Hall,” cellist Yo-Yo Ma said in a phone interview. “She enables the transition that takes place between a person’s willingness to perform backstage and then to share everything that’s important to them. Happens between going on stage. This transition for an artist is often when they are most vulnerable.”

Ms. King called herself a professional nerve-wracker, and made it her business to learn the pre-performance rituals of her charges.

For example, she knew that the violinist kyung wha chungu Loved the highly fragrant flowers to be placed just outside her dressing room; that soprano Jesse Norman wanted a thermometer and humidifier in his quarters; and that conductor Ricardo Mutic He needed strong coffee. When Ms. King was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal before Mr. Muti held a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1990, she insisted on this detail.

“My sweetheart isn’t here yet,” she said. “When he gets here the first thing he wants is his coffee, and I must make sure he drinks it before he goes on stage.”

Feather In what proved to be his last concert at Carnegie Hall, Leonard Bernstein Gave Ms. King a pin in gratitude.

Ms. King also showed glimpses of vulnerability.

When Sinatra took on the role of Carnegie Hall in 1987 at the behest of Miss King, she kept on memorizing her lines as she struggled for reading teleprompter. During the intermission, Sinatra’s moderator was in a dilemma to walk up to her, but Ms. King took her aside.

“You look like you’re having a hard time out there,” she told him. “But listen, you’re Frank Sinatra. You can do anything. They’ll always love you no matter what happens. If you’re in trouble again, just smile, or say hello to a pretty lady on the balcony. “

Back on stage, Sinatra took his advice, and he nodded confidently.

Ms. King, who raised a daughter on her own, had a second full-time job, away from the bright lights of Carnegie Hall.

After the evening concert was over, she would drive from town to the office of the city’s chief medical examiner, where she Work To deal with the affairs of the dead, until morning as an administrator. Then she was back at her apartment in Harlem to get some sleep, then picked up her granddaughters, Oni and Sonarisa, from school and headed to Carnegie in the late afternoon. She joined the city’s morgue as a clerk in the 1970s, then went to work at Carnegie in the mid-1980s, initially as an usher. He worked hand in hand in both the works for years.

In 2004, Carnegie Hall’s executive director, when his job collided, Robert Hartho, died suddenly at 47. A colleague called to tell Ms. King that her body was on the way to the morgue, but she already knew.

“I’m just sitting here taking care of him,” she replied. “I’m holding his hand so he’s not alone tonight.”

Deborah King was born on October 4, 1949, in Manhattan and raised in Harlem. Her father, John, was a deaf. His mother, Margo (Shaw) King, was a homemaker.

Deborah aspired to be a cosmetologist, and in high school She had applied for an internship at a salon. But due to a clerical error, she ended up in the morgue instead.

In addition to her granddaughters, Ms. King is survived by a grandson and a daughter, Cheryl Leek-Fox-Middleton. Ms. King took pride in admitting both of her granddaughters to the college.

She retired from the medical examiner’s office in 2016 and was diagnosed with liver cancer a few years later. She retired from Carnegie Hall last spring.

Employees and family members gathered at Carnegie to celebrate the occasion. Cakes were served, citations from musicians were read aloud, and Ms. King told tales of her adventures backstage. A plaque was unveiled in his honour.

Just outside the Maestro Suite, a smiling portrait of him hangs on his own wall, near pictures of greats like Gershwin and Tchaikovsky.



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