Saying Goodbye: Notable 2013 Obituaries
You may have never heard of them, but these notables we lost in 2013 probably touched your life.
Published: December 30, 2013
Cook, not chef; despite being one of America’s best-selling cookbook authors for decades, Hazan never cooked commercially, never learned to cook from her mother, never really cared about cooking at all. She wasn’t interested in food, but she married a man who was, and who expected to be fed, so she figured it out. And in the first cooking class she took — one on Chinese cookery — she discovered her true talent: not cooking, but teaching. When the Chinese teacher had to leave one month into the course, her fellow students asked her to teach them to cook Italian instead. As she had done years earlier when confronted with a husband and a kitchen, Hazan shrugged and figured it out.
From these inauspicious beginnings, Marcella and Victor Hazan formed one of the most successful partnerships of the century. With Victor egging her on every step of the way, Marcella’s innate talent emerged; without him cajoling her to keep cooking, writing the headnotes, wining and dining the reporters and publishers, that talent would never have reached past their own kitchen. Instead, the Hazans introduced America to real Parmigiano-Reggiano (not that stinky dust in the green can), balsamic vinegar, tomato sauce that didn’t resemble ketchup. New York Times food writer Mark Bittman compared Hazan to Julia Child, another cookbook writer who introduced America to a classical European cuisine.
But unlike Child’s meticulously researched bible of gastronomy, Hazan’s first cookbook, The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating, presented not a list of formulae but a way of life. Each subsequent volume the Hazans published — just seven in all, between 1973 and 2008 — was a portrait of Italy and of themselves, food the center yet incidental. Like cooking The Sauce, reading a Hazan cookbook is a simple luxury. Hazan died in September in Longboat Key, where she and Victor retired several years ago. On the day before she died, according to the New York Times, they shared a meal he cooked: “trofie, the twisted Ligurian pasta, sauced with some pesto made with basil from the terrace garden.” –Jessica Bryce Young
His grass was blue
Oct., 21, 1921-Oct. 10, 2013
Legendary bluegrass fiddler who played with all the greats had a lasting impact on music
The story of how Jim Shumate was discovered sounds too precious to be true. But it’s part of his legend, and it goes something like this: In 1943, iconic bluegrass musician Bill Monroe was just passing through Hickory, N.C., on his way to Nashville, when he happened to tune into local radio station WHKY, hoping to catch some decent country music. Don Walker and the Blue Ridge Boys were playing a live show on the air, and something about the fiddler caught Monroe’s ear. Fortuitously, Monroe’s fiddler, Howard Forrester, had just given his notice, so as soon as he got back to Nashville, Monroe made a call to the 20-year-old fiddler he had heard on the air. His name was Jim Shumate, and he had been working as a furniture salesman.
“The telephone rang and a voice said, ‘This is Bill Monroe,’” Shumate later recalled, noting that all of his life he’d wanted to play the Grand Ole Opry, and Monroe was his bluegrass idol. “That shook me up, you know. He said, ‘Now you play the fiddle, don’t you? You’ve got Howdy Forrester, Tommy Magness and three or four others all mixed up together. If you play that type of fiddle, that’s what I want.’”
Shumate packed his bags and caught the next bus to Nashville, and the rest is history. The young fiddler played in Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys band every Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry, and anywhere else they could get an out-of-town gig during the week. Shumate recalled once that he didn’t realize that the Blue Grass Boys were so influential on bluegrass music until it dawned on him while traveling with the band that other groups he saw playing live shows were imitating their style. “Every one of them would be trying to do the very same thing we had done on the Opry the night before,” he said. “I said, ‘Fellows, we’re making some kind of history, but I don’t know what it is.’”
Shumate quickly gained a reputation as an innovative player, and just a few years after he started playing with Monroe, he was asked to join to join Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in their band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Though he wasn’t a big fan of recording — he preferred to play live — he can be heard on the Foggy Mountain Boys’ legendary first albums. His playing today is considered innovative and Shumate became an icon himself in bluegrass history. But Shumate, a simple man, soon grew tired of being on the road and traveling with the band, so in 1949, he quietly returned to his modest job as a furniture salesman in Hickory. His contributions to bluegrass did not permit him to fade into obscurity, however. He was inducted into both the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, and he was presented with the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award. He continued to write his own music and recorded a bit here and there over the years, but even after receiving awards and accolates, he never let his talent or his reputation go to his head. When asked once about his playing, he simply said, “I just thank God for the gift that I have in it. And everyday I live I can play it a little better than I could the day before. So that’s got to be a gift, you know.”
Shumate died at 91, after suffering from renal failure. –Erin Sullivan
April 2, 1923-March 17, 2013
Illustrator made a living creating iconic images that graced the covers of paperback books
If you come upon a trove of 1950s paperbacks in a resale shop, have a look. There’s a good chance that one of the covers was drawn by illustrator Mitchell Hooks, who died in March at 89.