An amazing storyteller, wonderful person, sublime artist. She is able to let you hear new twists and turns in songs you thought you’ve already heard a million times. Her otherworldly melancholic voice, connected with her wittiness, makes her one-of-a-kind. And she always added some rarely heard tunes and oddities in her repertoire on her records. It is very sad to hear that singer Wesla Whitfield has entered hospice care after being diagnosed with cancer in December.
In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, Wesla is quoted thanking her fans and friends “for all the love and devotion you’ve given me over the years. I’ve had a wonderful time making music for you, but it’s become time to leave the room…I’ve had a great life and the thought of all you lovely people who have listened to my singing brings me great peace”.
Wesla had tremendous success on the West Coast, especially in San Francisco where she moved in 1968. She’s been married to British-born pianist Mike Greensill with whom she’s recorded over 20 albums. Mike also did most of the arrangements on Wesla’s albums. Their live recording “Best Thing For You” was made at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room in May, 2011. Both have been teaching and conducting workshops throughout the country and moved to their new home in St. Helena in the Napa Valley.
I’m glad I had the chance to interview her in New York back in 1998 when she was performing at the Kaufman Theatre on 42nd Street. In the liner notes to her 2005 HighNote release “In My Life”, Wesla says about the album’s closer, the Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden classic “Some Other Time”: “Some Other Time” is concerned with facing the moment of goodbye, which can be so impossibly painful that we choose to deny the reality of its approach. We might instead reflect on the happy times shared, discuss a hypothetical future together, and promise wholeheartedly to take up again where we left off as soon as this short separation has passed – even though we know full well that such a reconciliation probably won’t be happening any time soon, if ever. It is the human condition to hope for the best as life without some faith in “what’s to come” would be impossible to survive. Certainly this makes a fitting sentiment with which to close…”