You’re getting ready to sign up for Austin piano lessons when you start to think about the greatest female pianists. With the piano being around for more than 200 years there must have been many greats, but as you peruse the many Austin piano lessons we have to offer you realize you’re having a hard time naming some. Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin aren’t the only pianists who changed history. Read on to learn about some of music history’s most influential pianists and the greatest female piano players of all time.
“I felt more alive then than I feel now because I was needed, and I could sing something to help my people…” -Nina Simone
Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina. She was the sixth child in a family of eight. Nina took the keys early in life at the age of three when she learned to play “God Be With You, Till We Meet Again” by Jeremiah Rankin. She had her first classical piano recital at age 12. Her music teacher wanted Nina to continue learning the keys and helped set up a fund that put her get through high school. From there Nina spent the summer of 1950 at Juilliard learning from another great pianist, Carl Friedberg.
She used that summer to prep for her audition to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Despite a well-received performance, she didn’t get in. She took private lessons from classical pianist and Curtis professor Vladimir Sokoloff. To help fund her lessons she worked as a photographer’s assistant and played piano at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City.
It was around this time in 1954 that she changed her name to Nina Simone for fear her mother wouldn’t approve of her music. Over the course of her musical career, Nian played many genres of piano such as classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. What she’s most known for is her talent to breath some soul and life into her music. In fact, she was so impassioned by the piano and the chance to play that she felt indifferent about her eventual fame and record contracts. For Nina, it was all about sharing her talents with the world and using what she had to help the Civil Rights Movement. Later in life the “High Priestess of Soul” Nina Simone was quoted as saying, “I felt more alive then than I feel now because I was needed, and I could sing something to help my people…”
Like many great female pianists, her fame outlasted her life. In 2016, the Netflix show Bojack Horseman used her song “Stars” in their last episode of season three. Click on the video below to hear the soulful song.
“I’d just as soon be on a good Steinway or Yamaha just as well.” -Marian McPartland
Marian McPartland was born Margaret Marian Turner in 1918 in Slough, United Kingdom. It was clear she had a talent for the piano and perfect pitch at a young age. However, mother refused to get her a piano teacher until the age of 16 and instead insisted she learned the violin. While McPartland learned it well she knew it wasn’t the instrument for her. Her passion laid with the ivory keys and it would be that same passion that opened doors to her career.
While studying at the Stratford House, Marian met a teacher by the name of Doris Mackie. Mackie saw her love for music and suggested to Marian’s parents that she try out for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Despite her lack of formal training and preference to learning music by ear instead of reading notes, the school was impressed with her. According to Wikipedia, the school accepted her based on her “rampant enthusiasm, God-given faculty, and a dangerous surplus of imagination.”
She had originally wanted to graduate from Guildhall with a concert pianist degree but soon fell in love American Jazz. She took some time off to seek jazz lessons and prommised her family she’d finish her degree at a later date. She didn’t return. The world of jazz called to her and she knew it was a world she couldn’t bear leaving. Her love of the free form genre lead her to play music for the British Troops during WW2 and marry James McPartland, an American cornetist. She soon moved with to United States
In her long-lasting career, she’s played cool jazz, bebop, mainstream jazz, and post-bop. From 1978-2011 McPartland hosted the longest running culture program on NPR called Piano Jazz. In 2004 she was quoted as saying, “I’d just as soon be on a good Steinway or Yamaha just as well.”
To get a taste of her piano playing style, check out the video below.
“It’s not enough to play the piano – it takes a lifetime to understand music”-Mitsuko Uchida
Mitsuko Uchida was born in Atami near Tokyo, Japan. She moved to Vienna, Austria when she was 12 because her father became the Japanize ambassador to Austria. There she studied at the Vienna Academy of Music under Richard Hauser, and later Wilhelm Kempff and Stefan Askenase. When her father was transferred back to Japan she decided to stay behind in Austria and continue her musical studies. She gave her first recital at age 14.
She is most known for interpreting the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, and Schoenberg. She won the Gramophone Award in 1989 when she recorded all of Mozart’s piano sonatas. Her recording of the Schoenberg Piano Concerto with Pierre Boulez earned her another Gramophone Award. These are only two out of the twelve awards she has earned throughout her life. In an interview with The Telegraph Uchida mentioned that she suffers from chronic vertigo that stopped her from playing for a few months in 2017. During that time she was set to record Beethoven’s Diabelli and had to move that project to 2020. Take a listen to her performance of Mozart’s Sonata K.576 in D major to see her everlasting talents.
She was born in Budapest and went on to study at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music with Ernő Dohnányi. She later married musicologist Aladar Tosh. While there is not much known about her life, what is known is that Fischer has the largest discography of this list with other 100 recordings. To see the complete list of her recording check out her page here. To hear a sampling of her work check out the video below.
“I didn’t know you were allowed to play the piano like that!”-Helen Sung
Heritage: Chinese American
Years Active: Since 1997.
Sung is probably the youngest pianist on our list but has proven herself to be a star that’s sure to twinkle for ages. She was born in Houston, Texas and attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She had originally set her sights on becoming a classical pianist. Her plan was to teach classical piano between performances, but as she neared the end of her studies at the University of Texas in Austin a friend took her to a Harry Connick, Jr., concert. The bio on her website quotes her as saying, “I didn’t know you were allowed to play the piano like that!“
She became so enamored with the sounds of jazz piano that after completing her classical studies she went on to graduate from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. She has worked with many other greats in the jazz realm including Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, Ron Carter, Jon Faddis, Wayne Shorter, T. S. Monk, MacArthur Fellow, Regina Carter, Terri Lyne Carrington, and has even appeared on Marian McParland’s NPR radio show Piano Jazz. To hear a sampling of her work click on the video below. To check out her website click here.
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The Greatest Female Pianists | Lone Star School of Music – Austin, TX