Alberta Benesch Kirsch, 89, pianist on many stages

August 02, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Alberta Benesch Kirsch, a pianist who performed at venues ranging from live television to festivals and military bases for more than 50 years, died Saturday from complications of a stroke at Keswick Multi-Care Center in Baltimore. She was 89.

The only child of Bertha and Rudolph Benesch, Bohemian immigrants and grocery store owners, the former Alberta Benesch was born in Baltimore.

She began to play the piano at age 10 and played by ear until she attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where she learned to read sheet music. She had also attended Eastern High School.

During the 1950s and 1960s, she performed on local television musical variety shows. She was an accompanist for "The Collegians," a program on WMAR-TV that featured amateur singers, dancers and musicians. The eclectic show was filmed in a Reisterstown lumberyard.

Mrs. Kirsch also performed at military bases, community centers and churches, retirement homes and hospitals. Her specialties were the works of Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.

As an employee of the city Bureau of Recreation and Parks for 27 years, she taught and entertained at recreation centers. Her community outreach efforts were recognized by former Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and city organizations.

Mrs. Kirsch traveled extensively.

Robert C. Wolf of Baltimore remembers spending Christmas in Maine with her and seeing people crowded around the piano to sing carols.

"Whenever she saw a piano, she had to play it," said Mr. Wolf, a friend since meeting Mrs. Kirsch on a blind date 14 years ago.

Four years ago, Mrs. Kirsch moved to Keswick, where there wasn't enough room for her Steinway in her quarters. It was moved into the common area, and she continued to play despite the multiple strokes she suffered.

Mrs. Kirsch was married twice, to David Nathanson and Maurice S. Kirsch, both deceased.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Hebrew Friendship Cemetery, 3600 E. Baltimore St.

There were no immediate survivors.

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