Ann Rabson, co-founder of the trio Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, dies after a battle with cancer in Virginia at the age of 67. A barrelhouse blues pianist, she was also a songwriter and guitarist.
Rabson recorded eight albums with Saffire and one solo CD for Alligator Records. She made three solo albums for other labels.
Rabson was best known for her work with Saffire, which she formed with one of her guitar students, Gaye Adegbalola. Andra Faye McIntosh completed the trio, which had a loyal following. Saffire disbanded in 2009 after 25 years of performing.
While Rabson didn’t start playing piano until she was 35, DownBeat magazine said she played “bluesy, honky-tonk piano with staggering authority.”
A native New Yorker who grew up in Ohio, she moved to Fredericksburg in 1971 where she gave music lessons on the side. Her father gave her a guitar when she was 17 and she idolized blues greats such as Memphis Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy.
“Blues speaks to me directly,” she said. “It wasn’t a choice. I was drawn to it naturally, sort of like a sheepdog with sheep.”
Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, a friend and producer, described Rabson as a “delightful, smart and funny person” and a dedicated champion of the blues. “We were blessed to have known her,” he said in a statement.
Rabson had continued to perform over the last few years, appearing on recordings with Pinetop Perkins and Ani DiFranco. Her most recent was “Not Alone,” recorded in 2012 for VizzTone Records.
Rabson is survived by her husband, George Newman, her daughter and a granddaughter.