The IU Jacobs School of Music and its Harp Department mourns the passing of Eleanor Fell, a Jacobs School alumna and a good friend. Eleanor died on June 16, 2013.
An obituary was published in the Herald Times >
The following article was also published June 17:
Celebrated pop harpist Eleanor Fell dies
By Mike Leonard331-4368 | firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been said that Eleanor Fell did more than any other person to popularize the harp as a contemporary instrument, capable of playing contemporary music.
The near-lifelong Bloomington resident, musician and business owner died Sunday of complications from leukemia at Hospice House at age 68.
Vivacious and humorous by nature, Fell was a beloved figure both to those who knew her personally and those who only knew her as a performer. “The whole harp world is grieving today because she was a friend to everybody,” said Susann McDonald, a distinguished professor and chairwoman of the harp department in the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. “She was just a wonderful human being. The last time I had dinner with her, a few weeks ago, I was saying, ‘You are the only person who can make me laugh like this.’”
“She was a character,” said Melissa Dickson, director of development for the Jacobs School. “She was not only a great, great friend to the school, but I knew her growing up as the mother of one of my friends, her son, Scott. She was one of the fun moms.”
Born in Chicago, Fell grew up in Bloomington and attended University School from pre-school through high school. She attended Stephens College for one year after high school and returned to Bloomington and IU to earn her music degree in harp performance in 1965.
“She thought she was just going to play at the Metropolitan Opera right away and learned that they already had a harpist,” McDonald recalled. “She learned that the same was true at other major jobs, although she did play with the Santa Fe Opera and some other good places.”
Her brother, Art, a pianist, urged her to join him in Africa in the early 1970s and she took a job playing harp in the elegant Hotel Cote d’Ivoire in Abidjan, in West Africa. Her life took a completely unexpected turn there after the hotel manager innocently asked the classically trained musician if she could play a popular song at the time, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.”
Fell discovered that people loved hearing contemporary music played on the harp and began arranging and playing Gershwin, Ellington and even the Beatles. She began getting invitations to play in Japan, Germany and Switzerland and soon landed in New York City, where she became a cultural phenomenon.
Crowds of tourists and celebrities began flocking to her engagements at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room, the Waldorf-Astoria and the St. Regis Hotel. Fans included Jackie Kennedy and her sister, Lee Radziwell, Arthur Fiedler, Marvin Hamlisch and artist Salvador Dali, who autographed sheet music for her with Dali-esque doodles on them.
Blond and attractive, Fell eschewed the orchestral black dress for fashionable evening gowns. At the Rainbow Room, the manager advised her to keep her husband, Lee Caulfield, from coming around. “He said, ‘Every man out there needs to think he can take you home tonight,’” she recalled in a 2001 interview.
She laughed that the glamour didn’t always work to her advantage. While she was walking through a hotel area in the Waldorf-Astoria one night, a security guard stopped her and she explained she was working at the hotel. The man placed his hand around her arm, stopped her and called for more security. “He thought I was a hooker!” she recalled with an uproarious laugh.
Fell was, instead, the most famous harpist in the world outside of classical music circles, sharing billings with Dave Brubeck, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Lionel Hampton, among many others.
She formed Vanderbilt Music with her husband, Caulfield, in 1977 and decided to leave New York City and take the company, and their son, Scott, to a more comfortable environment in her hometown in 1984. “She wanted me to have a normal childhood like she did,” Scott Caulfield said this week. “In fact, I grew up in the same house she grew up in, on Arbutus Drive, across from Forest Quad.”
“She helped so many music students over the years by giving them jobs at Vanderbilt Music (one of the leading harp, harp strings and harp music companies in the world),” McDonald said. “Every year five or six of our harp students would work there and be able to make a little money while they were in school.”
Fell and Caulfield continued to operate Vanderbilt Music as partners after divorcing. They sold the business in 2012. About three years ago, she married Lamar E. Peterson.
Fell developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma around 2006 and that disease went into remission. A few years later she developed chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which she unsuccessfully tried to manage. “For somebody who was always in control, it was tough for her, but once she said, ‘I’ve had it with the treatment’ it was almost liberating,” he said. “She almost got kicked out of Hospice House because she stopped declining and she joked about that, too,” her son said. “She said, ‘Can I be the poster child for Hospice House rejects?’ She was always making jokes, even when she was very sick.”
Fell insisted to friends such as McDonald that she did not want anyone to buy flowers and, instead, to make donations to either the Eleanor Fell Harp Scholarship at IU or Hospice House. Fittingly, there will be a remembrance planned at the upcoming ninth USA International Harp Competition at IU, July 10-20.
Visitation will be from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday at The Funeral Chapel of Powell and Deckard with services at 1 p.m., followed by burial in Beth Shalom Gardens at Valhalla Memory Gardens.
“It’s very comforting to know that she was able to know her only grandchild and it meant so much to her,” said McDonald. “She was very, very excited to have that opportunity.”
James Irving Caulfield was born Jan. 17, 2013, and was named after Eleanor’s father. “We had some deep, deep talks at the end and she was at peace,” said Scott, her son. “She said, ‘I’ve been everywhere I wanted to go and I’ve eaten everything I’ve wanted to eat and loved everyone I wanted to love,’” he said. “She said her only regret was not going to be able to see James grow up. She said, ‘I just wish I could see who the hell he’s going to look like.’”
Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2013