Singer Wesla Whitfield is ‘at peace’ as she enters hospice care
By Leah Garchik
January 30, 2018 Updated: January 30, 2018 1:36pm
Photo: Laura Morton, Special To The Chronicle
Wesla Whitfield looks at her husband and accompanist, Mike Greensill, as they perform a song at their home in St. Helena in 2011.
The subject line in an email from Mike Greensill, received Monday, brought me up short: “Wesla — Time to leave the room.”
The attached note from his wife, singer Wesla Whitfield, was addressed to “Friends and Fans,” first thanking them “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.” The words “tumor” and “infection” are mentioned, with reassurances: She’s comfortable, she’s at home, she has hospice, and she’s not going to have any major interventions.
Whitfield built a national reputation as one of the greatest interpreters of the American songbook. She was a regular at the old Plush Room and marked her 25th anniversary there in 2005. She later performed at the Rrazz Room and more recently at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, as well as in concerts and club appearances around the country and at Carnegie Hall, the White House and New York’s Algonquin Hotel. She retired from singing in December after being diagnosed with cancer.
“I’ve had a great life and the thought of all you lovely people who have listened to my singing brings me great peace,” she wrote in the email to friends and fans this week, saying that emails sent to her husband (firstname.lastname@example.org) would be read aloud to her. The subject line of the note — “Time to leave the room” — reflected the unself-pitying let’s-deal-with-this mind-set of the singer, who, at the start of her singing career, lost the ability to walk when she was shot in an atttempted robbery.
The letter included a link to a YouTube recording of her singing “In My Life,” allowing friends and fans the opportunity of listening to her, relishing all the good things that the years had offered her.
And in my head were images and sounds from so many performances, so many moments when everything else in the room stopped, and there was only Wesla’s voice floating on the molecules. Whatever song it was, it was as though you’d never heard anyone sing it before.
Thank you, Wesla.
Leah Garchik is open for business in San Francisco, (415) 777-8426. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @leahgarchik