Faith Winthrop played a major role in Guaraldi's early career, working at his side for much of 1955 at the famed hungry i nightclub. She continued to perform during a long and successful career, and her memory was remarkably vivid when she graciously provided a lengthy interview during my book's research phase.
The San Francisco Chronicle honored her with a generous obituary, reprinted here in full:
Faith Winthrop, jazz singer who founded Glide community choir, dies at 87
by Aidin Vaziri
July 10, 2019
Faith Winthrop, the jazz vocalist who founded Glide Memorial Church’s community gospel choir and mentored Bay Area luminaries such as Ledisi, Lavay Smith and Paula West, died on July 1 in San Francisco. She was 87.
Her death was confirmed by Erika Lenkert, her daughter, who said the cause was complications from what was expected to be a simple surgery.
Winthrop moved in the mid-1950s from her native Massachusetts to San Francisco, where the classically trained singer established herself on the city’s vibrant club scene. She worked as the house singer at the hungry i in North Beach, where she warmed up audiences for up-and-coming stars like Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Mort Sahl. Her backing band included pianist Vince Guaraldi, guitarist Eddie Duran and bassist Dean Reilly.
Known for her silky voice and dramatic vocal interpretations of the standards, Winthrop was dubbed “San Francisco’s grand dame of song” by Philip Elwood, the music critic for the Examiner. She performed at venerable jazz institutions like the London House and Mister Kelly’s in Chicago, and the Blue Angel and Village Vanguard in New York. She made her television debut on the Today Show, before deciding to settle down in San Francisco to start a family with Hans Lenkert, with whom she had a brief relationship.
Winthrop worked as a faculty member in the music department at Mills College in Oakland, the Jazz School in Berkeley and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She also taught private lessons out of her homes in the Haight and Cole Valley, tutoring everyone from pop singers like Al Jarreau and Romeo Void’s Debora Iyall to screen stars like Divine and Keanu Reeves.
In 1966, Winthrop became the founding director of the Glide Ensemble, the community choir at the Rev. Cecil Williams’ Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin.
In the 1970s, Winthrop joined the Sometime Sondheim Singers performance group. Erika Lenkert, an author and former writer for The Chronicle, recalled sitting under the piano at their Cannery performance space and singing along to her songs.
“My mother was a very spiritual person who lived in gratitude and wonder,” Lenkert said. “She had an incredible ability to help people find and embrace themselves just as they are. She passed away the same way she lived life: surrounded by loved ones, music and song.”
Faith Winthrop was born in Boston on Nov. 18, 1931, to Russian immigrants Sarah Kaplan and Maurice Winthrop.
In the early 1950s, she moved to the West Coast, where she lived in a cottage in Malibu, owned by Mickey Rooney, and scored a record deal. She eventually made her way to San Francisco, living for a brief spell on a houseboat in Sausalito.
Winthrop released a pair of albums featuring standards and original material, 1993’s A Leap of Faith and 2007’s Havin’ Myself a Time!
Winthrop often recounted the tale of meeting Billie Holiday at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston in her early years as a performer.
“I was singing ‘Lover Man’ while they adjusted the mikes and lights, and in walked Billie holding her two Chihuahuas,” Winthrop said. “I saw her, stumbled through the song, and she came up and said, ‘Sing the song, girl, sing it!’ and I nearly collapsed, but I did finish it.”
In 2016, Winthrop moved to a retirement community in Mill Valley, where she taught voice lessons to fellow residents and her 13-year-old granddaughter, Viva Wertz.
Until her death, Winthrop performed twice monthly at Fior d’Italia restaurant in the city.
Lenkert is planning a celebration of life event for September. Details will follow and will be posted on her Facebook page.
Winthrop is survived by her daughter, Erika Lenkert, and granddaughter, Viva Wertz.