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Barbara Sutton Curtis

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Biography

Born just west of St. Louis in Howell, MO, in 1930, Barbara Sutton-Curtis developed her considerable piano chops in quiet competition with her big brother Ralph Sutton, who was born in Hamburg, MO, in 1922. Barbara Sutton began playing professionally in 1949, and in 1951 Ralph set her up with a gig at the Central Plaza in New York City. Brother and sister started performing duets publicly in 1959. Both individuals developed remarkable facility as interpreters of the Harlem stride piano tradition, and they shared a specialized devotion to the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller, unearthing a surprising number of forgotten Waller compositions and performing them all over the world. Ralph's little sister amended her surname after marrying a high-school English teacher by the name of Hal Curtis, who first heard her playing piano in 1951 and thought he was listening to Ralph. In 1969 Barbara settled in Ukiah, CA, staying active as both performer and music instructor. She gigged regularly in Menlo Park and recorded in Toronto, Canada, at the Café de Copains. In 1987 she visited Germany with a traveling Fats Waller tribute show and collaborated with her brother at the Mid-America Jazz Festival in St. Louis. In 1991 they appeared together in concert at the Kurtheater in Baden, Switzerland. Music taped at that event was included, along with selections recorded in Toronto in 1988-1989, on her album Solos & Duets, released by Sackville Records in 1994. Ralph and Barbara's last live album, Home Again, was recorded on twin Steinway pianos at the Bistro Europa jazz club in St. Louis on September 29 and 30, 2000, and released under Ralph's name on Gaslight Records in 2002. Barbara Sutton-Curtis is a skilled handler of the historic jazz repertoire and one of the world's most accomplished interpreters of Fats Waller's extensive musical legacy.

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