Evelyn B. Butterhoff, piano player, dies

She began playing the piano in the 1930s and never lost her love for the old songs

  • Evelyn Butterhoff, in 1992
Evelyn Butterhoff, in 1992 (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
April 25, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Evelyn B. Butterhoff, whose spirited barroom playing and renditions of Tin Pan Alley classics took her from the old Emerson Hotel to the Glenmore Tavern on Harford Road — and many places in between — died April 11 of dementia at the Hamilton Center, a Northeast Baltimore nursing facility.

She was 86.

Evelyn Beck was born in Baltimore and raised in the 400 block of Curley St.

By age 7, she was studying piano with a neighborhood teacher, and by 1937 was studying with Jack Rohr at Hammann Music Co. at 206 N. Liberty St. in downtown Baltimore.

In 1940, after Mrs. Butterhoff had graduated from St. Elizabeth parochial and commercial business school in Highlandtown, she started teaching piano herself.

"On May 13, 1941, a telephone was installed in her home, … which made it convenient for her to reach students and obtain piano-playing jobs," said her daughter, Mary Carol Ambrose of Parkville.

She was 17 when she began playing professionally in 1942 with Frank Skalski's Band and then the Silver Eagle Orchestra.

From 1940 to 1950, Mrs. Butterhoff played in local establishments that included the Emerson Hotel, Meushaw's Restaurant, the Polish Home, the Maryland Country Club, the Stafford Hotel, Hillendale Country Club, the Rolling Inn, Thompson's Sea Girt House, Adonis Hall and the Villa night club.

She was married in 1948 to John F. Butterhoff Jr., and they later moved to Sagra Road in Northwood, where they raised their three children.

Mr. Butterhoff, a former programmer who later headed the records department for Exxon Oil Co. in Baltimore, died in 2004.

While raising her family, Mrs. Butterhoff played in an all-female band, Queens of Rhythm, from 1950 to 1965.

In the late 1960s, she began playing at Dutchman's on Greenmount Avenue, and in the 1970s and 1980s began performing at Rickter's on Belair Road and the Emerald Tavern on Harford Road.

"She was quite a character. Sometimes when she was working her way through a few fast popular songs, she would sing and stomp her right high-heeled shoe so hard she put it through the floor board one night," her daughter said, laughing.

"The owners of the tavern had to reinforce that area of the floor with a steel plate. Anytime Evelyn was playing the piano, patrons knew they would have a good time," her daughter said.

Beginning in the 1970s, Mrs. Butterhoff began playing at the Glenmore Tavern in Hamilton every other week, encouraging customers to join her in singalongs with a musical repertoire that harked back to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, World War II and the 1950s.

The first thing Mrs. Butterhoff did before touching one piano key or sounding a note was to sprinkle holy water from Lourdes over the keyboard and piano, and then pop open a can of cold beer.

When she was prepared, her audience was ready to hear and sing along to "When You Wore a Tulip," "Come Around Any Old Time," "I Know That Someday You'll Want Me" or "Love Letters in the Sand."

"She dresses in her finest clothes, puts on heavy makeup and costume jewelry, and decorates the piano with lace and candelabrum. A plastic cup sits close by for tips. Recently, she made $4," observed The Baltimore Sun in 1992.

When asked why and how she did it, Mrs. Butterhoff replied, "Hon, it's my livelihood.

"It's a commitment to present this music to somebody and keep it alive," she said in the interview. "It's the biggest part of my life. I've been doing this for years."

In 1999, Mrs. Butterhoff told then-Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez, "I got a story that never ends."

"She could play anything from classical to rock 'n' roll," her daughter said.

Mrs. Ambrose said her mother began experiencing health problems in the 1990s with a ruptured appendix that was followed by a ruptured stomach wall. "And then breast cancer in 1994. That's when she retired," her daughter said.

Six years ago, she suffered a stroke.

"She never abandoned her will to live or smile. She loved people. Her greatest accomplishments were her children, entertaining the public and surviving breast cancer," Mrs. Ambrose said.

Mrs. Butterhoff was a communicant of St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church in Hamilton. A Mass of Christian burial was offered April 18 at St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church in Rodgers Forge.

Also surviving are two sons, John J. Butterhoff of the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County and Robert W. Butterhoff of Manchester; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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