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Judith Hendricks

1937 - 2015 Obituary Condolences Gallery
(news story) Judith Hendricks, 78, who for nearly six decades was the guiding light behind one of the world's greatest jazz icons, died Wednesday morning in New York-Presbyterian/?Columbia University Medical Center, where she had been treated since Friday for a brain aneurysm.

Mrs. Hendricks was married for 56 years to Toledo native Jon Hendricks, 94, known to jazz aficionados worldwide as the "father of vocalese" for his impact on evolving that style of scat-singing decades ago, especially with the groundbreaking '50s jazz vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

While they were treating her for the aneurysm, doctors discovered that Mrs. Hendricks had been living with an undiagnosed brain tumor, her daughter, Aria Hendricks, said.

"I thought it was just stress," Aria Hendricks said of her mother's headaches.

Mr. Hendricks, who long was associated with the University of Toledo, has split his time among Toledo, New York, and Paris over his career, but he has spent the lion's share of his time in the New York area in recent years.

He met Mrs. Hendricks in a New York jazz club where she was a "cigarette girl" while pursuing a career as a ballerina.

She was a "beautiful, striking woman" whom Jon successfully courted, despite some initial reluctance on her part, according to Lori Lefevre Johnson, a Toledo jazz singer and Whitmer High School art educator who grew close to the Hendricks family.

Ms. Lefevre Johnson visited the couple in New York and once joined them in Paris for a series of gigs.

"They were like one. They were just so cute together," Ms. Lefevre Johnson said. "Whenever I saw them, they were holding hands and walking together."

She said the two maintained a separate apartment in New York to store their fanciest clothes. "I don't think the average person in Toledo realizes how significant Jon Hendricks is and what Judith meant to him," Ms. Lefevre Johnson said.

Born July 4, 1937, at the same New York City hospital where she died, Mrs. Hendricks was the daughter of Max Dickstein and Maida Dickstein Laffstein.

"Make sure you say she was a strong-willed, unique, and creative individual, because that's what she was," Aria Hendricks said.

As his manager and best friend, Mrs. Hendricks organized his tours, his interviews, what he wore, and other day-to-day details, even his meals.

"She was the reason he was able to be Jon Hendricks because she took care of him perfectly," said Kay Elliott, a spokesman for the Art Tatum Jazz Society. "She was his manager, his lover - his everything."

Mrs. Hendricks, who earlier beat a 2006 melanoma diagnosis, suffered the aneurysm inside the couple's New York apartment.

Michelle Williams, a daughter of Mr. Hendricks, flew from her home in Paris to be with the family.

Ellie Martin, a jazz voice instructor at UT, first got to know the couple while she was writing her master's thesis on Mr. Hendricks' life in Toledo.

Ms. Martin is working toward getting her doctorate in jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh by writing a dissertation on the cultural impact of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

"Every time they talked about each other, they talked about how they were soul mates," Ms. Martin said. "How they interacted with each other was just incredible."

One Toledo-area photographer, Bob Lubell, who is researching a book about Mr. Hendricks, said that Mrs. Hendricks was his biggest motivator.

"Jon could only come alive with Judith's prompting. She was absolutely everything to him," he said. "It was like she could turn a switch. She was amazing."

Funeral arrangements are pending, Aria Hendricks said.

This story was written by Blade Staff Writer Tom Henry. Contact him at: [email protected], 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.
Published in Toledo Blade on Nov. 19, 2015
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