Remembering Broadway Star Rebecca Luker Luker, who died of ALS Dec. 23, received Tony nominations for her performances in Showboat, The Music Man and Mary Poppins. She spoke to Fresh Air in 1999, 2000, 2013 and 2020.
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Remembering Broadway Star Rebecca Luker

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Remembering Broadway Star Rebecca Luker

Remembering Broadway Star Rebecca Luker

Remembering Broadway Star Rebecca Luker

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Luker, who died of ALS Dec. 23, received Tony nominations for her performances in Showboat, The Music Man and Mary Poppins. She spoke to Fresh Air in 1999, 2000, 2013 and 2020.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Today, we're going to remember Broadway star Rebecca Luker. She died last Wednesday at the age of 59 of ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. Luker had a beautiful voice. I loved hearing her sing and feel lucky to have seen her on Broadway and to have had her on our show four times. We're going to hear excerpts of those interviews.

Luker received Tony nominations for her performances in "Show Boat," "The Music Man" and "Mary Poppins." She also starred in a Broadway revival of "The Sound Of Music." She was married to another Broadway star, Danny Burstein. We send our condolences to him.

We'll start our tribute with our interview from 2000, when Rebecca Luker was starring on Broadway in a revival of "The Music Man" in the role of Marian, the librarian. This part of the interview begins with her singing "Till There Was You" from the cast recording of that revival.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TILL THERE WAS YOU")

REBECCA LUKER: (As Marian, singing) There were bells on the hill, but I never heard them ringing. No, I never heard them at all till there was you. There were birds in the sky, but I never saw them winging. No, I never saw them at all till there was you. And there was music. And there were wonderful roses, they tell me, in sweet, fragrant meadows of dawn and dew. There was love all around, but I never heard it singing. No, I never heard it at all till there was you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Rebecca Luker in the part of Marian, the librarian. You have songs with what seems to me anyways to be a really big range that starts off in your - in, you know, the bottom of your speaking range and ends up on really high notes. But you have a voice that's very well equipped to do that. This was probably not even a stretch for you.

LUKER: Oh, how to comment on that? Well, I guess the range is right in my voice. I have to say, I've done this role twice before. And, you know, the range is - I guess it has a big range. It goes up to A flat and then starts pretty low. But I try to keep it all sort of in the same, you know, register and try to make it sound like I'm speaking more than singing.

And it has been hard. It's been hard. It's a lot of work and a lot of songs, and it did take a lot of rehearsal and a lot of discipline to make it, you know, sound - if it sounds easy, that's just 'cause we rehearsed a lot, you know, worked hard on it.

GROSS: Let me play something with you, Rebecca Luker, singing on the cast recording of "The Music Man." And I thought we'd go with a ballad that is not that famous. It's called "My White Knight." It's a really lovely song, has, I think, quite a big range. You do start off as if you're speaking and then soar (laughter).

LUKER: Yeah, this one has a big range.

GROSS: Yeah. Say something about the song. It's too bad this one isn't as well known.

LUKER: Well, it is. It's not that well known. Probably one reason is that in the movie, they interpolate the Meredith Willson's version into the, you know, into the song. In the middle of the song, you hear "My White Knight" as we do it in the show, and it's surrounded by another song called "Being In Love," which I'm not even sure if Meredith Willson wrote that. Someone else wrote it, I think. And - maybe Loesser wrote it. But I - it's one of my favorite songs now. And hopefully when people see the show, they come away feeling that way about it - like, oh, I never knew it was, you know, a good song.

But the way we arranged it for the show is David Chase, our conductor and musical director, had the idea that the beginning was too high. It was too high to sound natural, so we lowered it about a fourth. And then a few lines later, we jump back up to the original key. And it works so well, and it just sort of naturally flows into the song the right way. And then it ends on an A flat and, you know, big money note at the end.

GROSS: (Laughter).

LUKER: And it's, you know, it's one of my favorite songs now, though. It's such a lovely song. And it just - it sort of encapsulates Marian and how, you know, how - who she is. It makes her - you know, you understand her better. You know where she's coming from better from the song.

GROSS: When the song starts, you know, Marian's mother's saying to her, you know, it's about time you found a guy, and nobody's of interest to you. What are you waiting for?

LUKER: Exactly, exactly.

GROSS: And she sings this in response. This is "My White Knight," Rebecca Luker singing on the new cast recording of "The Music Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY WHITE KNIGHT")

LUKER: (As Marian, singing) My white knight - not a Lancelot, nor an angel with wings, just someone to love me who is not ashamed of a few nice things. My white knight, who knew what my heart would say if it only knew how - please, dear Venus, show me now. All I want is a plain man. All I want is a modest man, a quiet man, a gentle man, a straightforward and honest man to sit with me in a cottage somewhere in the state of Iowa. And I would like him to be more interested in me than he is in himself and more interested in us than in me. And if occasionally he'd ponder what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great, him I could love till I die, him I could love till I die. My white knight - not a Lancelot, nor an angel with wings, just someone to love me who is not ashamed of a few nice things. My white knight let me walk with him where the others ride by, walk and love him till I die, till I die.

GROSS: That's Rebecca Luker from the new cast recording of "The Music Man."

Rebecca, you grew up in a small town in Alabama.

LUKER: Yes.

GROSS: Did you feel connected at all to the small town of River City in "The Music Man"?

LUKER: Yes and no. I mean, I grew up in Birmingham, Ala. But I wasn't there too many years. I moved when I was 4. But actually, I moved to even a smaller town than Birmingham. So yes, in a way, I guess I was acquainted with sort of that kind of slower life. And, you know, how you know your neighbors and that sort of thing. So that was a connection. Yes.

GROSS: How small was the town you moved to after Birmingham?

LUKER: Well, Helena, Ala., I don't know the population. But it's small. I mean, we're talking, you know, six traffic lights or something, you know? So it - and it hasn't changed in 30 years, probably.

GROSS: Was there any theater there?

LUKER: Hope no one from Helena is listening. No. Oh, no. There was a little theater in Birmingham. So we'd go there to - if we ever did see theater, it was in Birmingham, pretty much.

GROSS: Was there any local entertainment?

LUKER: You know, you'd go to the movies or you'd, you know - of course, my university town, Montevallo, was even further South. And I guess you could go there to see some plays and things. But we didn't - you know, church was a lot of - you know, I went there a lot to sing and be entertained (laughter).

GROSS: What kind of songs did you sing in church?

LUKER: Mostly - well, I grew up in the Baptist Church. So we had that sort of secular, kind of popular-type music, you know, Bill Gaither, if you know anything about that kind of music - nothing classical, nothing Bach or, you know, none of the good church music. It was all sort of that contemporary religious music and hymns. We did some of the old hymns, of course.

GROSS: You want to do a few bars of a hymn you sang when you were a kid?

LUKER: Oh, (singing) just as I am without one plea. You know that one?

GROSS: No.

LUKER: But - OK, never mind.

CRAIG BIERKO: (Laughter).

LUKER: And we'd sing, you know, 12, 14...

GROSS: They didn't sing that one in my synagogue.

(LAUGHTER)

LUKER: Yeah. We'd sing about 12 verses of that while the preacher stood at the end waiting for someone to walk down the aisle and join the church. And, you know...

GROSS: Why don't we take a pause here and listen to some more music from the new cast recording of "The Music Man." And, Rebecca, I thought we could listen to you singing "Goodnight My Someone."

LUKER: OK.

GROSS: This is a very familiar song from the show. Do you want to say anything about the song and...

LUKER: I love when it comes in the show. I think you need a ballad, you know? I've often heard the audience say that by the time, you know, Marian goes out on the porch and the moonlight, you know, hits her and she sings this beautiful lullaby, that it's just a wonderful change to what's been happening, you know? Harold's been singing "Trouble" and stirring the town up. And they've had the town meeting. And everything's going at full blast. You know, you get to sort of relax a little bit. There's been a lot of goings on before this happens. And it's just a sort of lovely song. It's one of my favorites.

GROSS: OK. This is "Goodnight My Someone," Rebecca Luker from the new cast recording of "The Music Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOODNIGHT MY SOMEONE")

LUKER: (As Marian, singing) Goodnight, my someone. Goodnight, my love. Sleep tight, my someone. Sleep tight, my love. Our star is shining its brightest light for goodnight, my love, for goodnight. Sweet dreams be yours, dear, if dreams there be, sweet dreams to carry you close to me - I wish they may, and I wish they might. Now, goodnight, my someone. Goodnight. True love can be whispered...

GROSS: That's Rebecca Luker, who plays Marian, the librarian, in the new Broadway production of "The Music Man." Now, Rebecca, your first role on Broadway was in "Phantom Of The Opera." You were an understudy for Sarah Brightman, who was the lead.

LUKER: Right.

GROSS: And you were also in the chorus. Did you spend a lot of time hoping that you could play the part?

LUKER: (Laughter) No. I mean, that was a special situation, actually. We had Sarah and an alternate Christine, who was being played by Patti Cohenour. And so my chances of going on were very, very slim, as the two of them, you know, sort of switched off. But in about - after about 10 months, they just gave me a show so they could see me do it. And I suppose I was pestering them to give me one or something. I don't remember. But, no, I was itching to go on, so they gave me a show. And that's how I finally got on. But it was a great place to start out, though. Even in the - even being in the ensemble, it was - I call it, Camp Phantom...

(LAUGHTER)

LUKER: ...Because I learned so much. And it was a great experience.

GROSS: And you eventually got to play the lead in that show.

LUKER: And eventually, yes, right after that, took over for Christine.

GROSS: That was Rebecca Luker recorded in 2000 when she was starring in a Broadway revival of "The Music Man." We'll continue our tribute to her and hear a couple of songs from her 1999 performance on our show after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE GROSSMAN'S "TILL THERE WAS YOU")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our tribute to Broadway star Rebecca Luker. She died last week of ALS - Lou Gehrig's disease. We're listening to highlights from her FRESH AIR appearances. In 1999, we did a show about songwriter Jerome Kern as part of our American popular song series. Luker and singer George Dvorsky performed several songs on that show. Here's an excerpt, starting with their duet of Kern's song "Look For The Silver Lining." George Dvorsky starts it off.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING")

GEORGE DVORSKY: (Singing) Please, don't be offended if I preach to you a while. Tears are out of place in eyes that were meant to smile. There's a way to make your very biggest troubles small. Here's the happy secret of it all. Look for the silver lining whenever a cloud appears in the blue. Remember, somewhere, the sun is shining. And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you. A heart full of joy and gladness will always banish sadness and strife. So always look for the silver lining. And try to find the sunny side of life.

LUKER: (Singing) As I wash my dishes, I'll be following your plan 'til I see the brightness in every pot and pan. I am sure your point of view will ease the daily grind. So I'll keep repeating in my mind, look for the silver lining whenever a cloud appears in the blue. Remember, somewhere, the sun is shining. And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you.

REBECCA LUKER AND GEORGE DVORSKY: (Singing) A heart full of joy and gladness will always banish sadness and strife. So always look for the silver lining and try to find the sunny side of life.

GROSS: Thank you. That was beautiful. That was George Dvorsky and Rebecca Luker singing with William Hicks at the piano. Why don't we hear another early song by Jerome Kern, one that was popular - very popular - in its time, 1914, but is virtually never done today. It's called "You're Here And I'm Here." You want to sing it for us?

LUKER: Let's sing it.

DVORSKY: Sure. It'll be fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE HERE AND I'M HERE")

LUKER: (Singing) We two are traveling in loveland (ph) today. We've gone astray and lost our way. What matter time or place or weather if we have lost our way together? You're here, and I'm here, so what do we care? The time and place do not count, it's the one who is there. Now, all I ask is room for two and to be there with only you. It would be heaven. When two hearts are true hearts, like yours and mine, the skies are fair everywhere and the sun seems to shine. And now the wide world seems a little, cozy corner for you and me.

DVORSKY: (Singing) There are just two on Earth and no one beside my little bride here by my side. Naught of the busy world reminds us. I only hope that no one finds us. You're here, and I'm here, so what do we care? The time and place do not count, it's the one who is there. Now, all I ask is room for two and to be there with only you. It would be heaven. When two hearts are true hearts, like yours and mine, the skies are fair everywhere and the sun seems to shine. And now the wide world seems a little, cozy corner for you and me.

REBECCA LUKER AND GEORGE DVORSKY: (Singing) You're here, and I'm here, so what do we care? The time and place do not count, it's the one who is there. Now, all I ask is room for two and to be there with only you. It would be heaven. When two hearts are true hearts, like yours and mine, the skies are fair everywhere, and the sun seems to shine. And now the wide world seems a little, cozy corner for you and me.

GROSS: We heard Rebecca Luker and George Dvorsky recorded on our show in 1999. Luker loved Jerome Kern's music and recorded an album of Kern's songs in 2013. After a break, we'll hear an excerpt of the interview I recorded with her when the album was released as we continue our tribute to Rebecca Luker. I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M OLD FASHIONED")

LUKER: (Singing) I'm old-fashioned. I love the moonlight. I love the old-fashioned things - the sound of rain upon a windowpane, the starry song that April sings. This year's fancies are passing fancies. But sighing sighs, holding hands, these my heart understands. I'm old-fashioned. But I don't mind...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONNY ROLLINS' "DEARLY BELOVED")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our tribute to Broadway star Rebecca Luker. She died last week at the age of 59. We're listening back to excerpts of her four FRESH AIR appearances. When we left off, we heard her perform Jerome Kern songs on our 1999 program about Kern's music. She loved Kern's songs and, in 2013, released an album of them. That was the occasion for the interview we're about to hear. The album is called "I Got Love." We started with a track from it, Kern's song "Once In A Blue Moon."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONCE IN A BLUE MOON")

LUKER: (Singing) Once in a blue moon, you will meet the right one. Once in a blue moon, find your dear delight one. Then with a thrill, you'll know that love is true once in a lifetime, when the moon is blue. Men are called deceivers ever, and women flirt with passion. One true love that lasts forever is sadly out of fashion. Moonlit madness under a pale sky, flames that turn to ashes and then die - all too soon, the lips that kiss may learn to say goodbye. Once in a blue moon...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Rebecca Luker, welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your new album. What a beautiful song that is, which - a song that I wasn't familiar with. It's a lovely song. And I like the way you start off unaccompanied, which is a kind of brave way to start an album...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: ...To sing unaccompanied because it's the first track on the record. What made you decide to do it that way?

LUKER: Yes, it is. Well, you have to be sure you're on - in the key when the musicians join you, which is - I always find that to be fun and challenging.

GROSS: The lyric for the song was written by Anne Caldwell. And it's interesting that Jerome Kern wrote with several women lyricists at a time when there were so few women lyricists because there's Anne Caldwell, there's Dorothy Fields, who's probably the best-known woman who he wrote with.

LUKER: That's right.

GROSS: And then there's a third whose name I'm not remembering because it's a name I was unfamiliar with.

LUKER: You could be thinking of Irene Franklin.

GROSS: Yes.

LUKER: But he only wrote, I believe, one song with her. She - that's a funny story. You know, in "My Husband's First Wife," she was in the cast, and she was a comedienne of the time. And she wrote her own showstopper with Jerome Kern because Oscar Hammerstein was too busy to write it or, you know, something like that (laughter). So I believe that was his only song with Irene Franklin. But yes, he...

GROSS: So she wrote the song for herself?

LUKER: She did. The show - I forget the name of the show all of a sudden. My - it's - "My Husband's First Wife" was - oh, "Sweet Adeline"...

GROSS: Yeah.

LUKER: ...That he wrote with Oscar Hammerstein. And I think - as the story has it, he - Oscar Hammerstein was too busy writing other arrangements. And she came to Kern and, you know, she - or he came to her and said, would you write your own lyrics to this song? And she said, absolutely. So she came up with this really funny song for the show, and it was a showstopper, turned out.

GROSS: And you do it on the album. And it is really funny.

LUKER: And I do it on the album.

GROSS: Yeah. So it's called "My Husband's First Wife." Anything you want to say about it? We'll give it a spin.

LUKER: Oh, sure. "My Husband"...

GROSS: That sounded so old-fashioned - we'll give it a spin (laughter).

LUKER: We'll give a spin. Yeah, you'll give it a whirl.

GROSS: But old-fashioned suits the album 'cause some of these songs, like this one, are so old-fashioned. This sounds like an old vaudeville song.

LUKER: It - absolutely. And it, you know, it was. It was - well, it was 1929 but a little bit after, maybe? I guess vaudeville was the '20s - the whole '20s. My husband, Danny, wrote his own verse for it for my 54 Below show. I don't know if I'm supposed to say that. But we couldn't record it because we weren't allowed to. But we had a lot of fun writing a third verse to this song, but I just think it's a very funny, a wonderful old song.

GROSS: After we hear the song, would you sing your husband's verse?

LUKER: Yes. I'll see if I can remember that (laughter).

GROSS: OK. You think while we play the song.

LUKER: OK, will do (laughter).

GROSS: OK. This is Rebecca Luker from her new album of Jerome Kern songs, which is called "I Got Love." And the song is "My Husband's First Wife."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HUSBAND'S FIRST WIFE")

LUKER: (Singing) There once lived a wonderful woman. Oh, a marvelous woman was she. She cooked like an angel, made all her own clothes. At 4:00 every morning, this paragon rose. She played the piano and cello and scrubbed up the kitchen each day. She sang like a dove, and she wasn't above taking in refined washing, they say.

(Singing) She was my husband's first wife, my husband's first wife. She never was cranky. She jumped when you'd call, and the house ran on nothing at all, so he tells me. My husband's first wife, my husband's first wife - she hated bicycling. It gave her no thrill. She never went out, and she never was ill. And, oh, how I wish the dear girl were here still, my husband's first wife.

(Singing) My husband's first wife, my husband's first wife - she sang as she brought up the coal every morn. And she mentioned vacations with scorn, so he tells me. My husband's first wife, my husband's first wife - her figure was lovely. Just 18, she looked. The children were scrubbed, and their shoes always hooked. They were born in the morning, but dinner was cooked by my husband's first wife.

GROSS: So that's Rebecca Luker singing "My Husband's First Wife" from her new album of Jerome Kern songs, which is called "I Got Love." So did you remember the lyric that your husband wrote for this 1929 song? (Laughter).

LUKER: Yeah. Yeah. We laughed a lot doing this, by the way. Mostly, they're his, Danny Burstein's lyrics. So - (singing) my husband's first wife, my husband's first wife, her skin was like porcelain, her pores always clear. And wrinkles refused to appear, so he tells me. My husband's first wife, my husband's first wife, her shopping was thrifty, completed by dawn. She'd beat you at chess just by using a pawn. She had all five babies while mowing the lawn. My husband's first wife.

GROSS: (Laughter) Very good.

LUKER: Ta da. Danny Burstein.

GROSS: I'm sure there's many (laughter)...

LUKER: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...Many more waiting to be written.

LUKER: Man, we laughed so hard. You should have heard some of the earlier, you know, versions that we came up with - very funny.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview I recorded with Rebecca Luker in 2013 after the release of her album of Jerome Kern songs called "I Got Love." We'll continue our tribute to her after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OSCAR PETERSON TRIO'S "THE SONG IS YOU")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Today, we're remembering Broadway star Rebecca Luker, who had a beautiful singing voice. She died last Wednesday. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with her in 2013 after the release of her album of Jerome Kern songs called "I Got Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: So I want you to introduce another song from your new album. And this is the song "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" from your album of Jerome Kern songs. He wrote this with Oscar Hammerstein. It's a pretty famous song. It's a standard in the jazz world.

LUKER: Yes.

GROSS: What do you love about this song? And tell us where - you know, more about its origins.

LUKER: Yeah. So when we decided to do the song, I heard a million versions of it. And I thought, well, should we do it? Because everybody's done this song. But I discovered it through just listening to many, many different Jerome Kern songs. And I wasn't familiar with Jerome Kern's Hollywood period as much as his, you know, earlier theater works. But he and Oscar Hammerstein wrote some astounding songs for Hollywood scores in the '30s.

So I chose "Folks Who Live On The Hill," and we made it - we sort of went with the jazz tradition that so many people do. But I think we put a slightly fresh spin on it. And I just wanted to represent that period of his career, which I think is so rich and full and unexpected.

GROSS: OK. So this is "The Folks" - this is "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" from my guest, Rebecca Luker's new album called "I Got Love - Songs Of Jerome Kern."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FOLKS WHO LIVE ON THE HILL")

LUKER: (Singing) Someday, we'll build a home on a hilltop high, you and I. Shiny and new, a cottage that two can fill. And we'll be pleased to be called the folks who live on the hill.

Someday, we may be adding a thing or two, a wing or two. We will make changes as any family will. But we will always be called the folks who live on the hill.

GROSS: That was Rebecca Luker singing "The Folks Who Live On The Hill" from her collection of Jerome Kern songs, which was the occasion of my interview with her in 2013, which we just heard an excerpt of.

My final interview with her was recorded about 11 weeks ago. It had been a rough year for her and her husband, Broadway star Danny Burstein. He starred in revivals of "Fiddler On The Roof" and Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," as well as in "Moulin Rouge." Earlier in the year, Burstein was hospitalized for COVID. Then Luker came down with a relatively mild case, but it was on top of having been diagnosed a few months earlier with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.

After Burstein wrote an article about having COVID and then taking care of Luker, who had become increasingly weak, we invited them back on our show. Luker's symptoms seemed to be progressing rapidly. She was at the point where she was having trouble speaking, although just four months earlier, she had performed a song at a Zoom event to raise awareness about ALS. Here's an excerpt of my interview from October 12, with Rebecca Luker and her husband, Danny Burstein.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You both have received Tony nominations for your performances in musicals. Becca, it seems like you are just such a natural singer. I can't imagine - no one could learn to sing like you unless they had a gift that they just had, you know? And Danny, you've said you never really thought of yourself as a singer and that you had to work at it, although I think you're a terrific singer. I've heard you in several musicals. But compare your approaches to how you developed into singers.

DANNY BURSTEIN: Well, Becca opens her mouth and her heart falls out. It's just a gift that she had from birth. She opened her mouth and this beautiful sound came out. I know she worked like crazy at it, but it's something that is innate in her, this beauty and goodness that comes out of her when she sings.

I never had that, so I had to concentrate on the lyric and putting the lyric over and storytelling more than anything. And that got me by. And I was a good enough, good enough musician to make it work. But that's how - I have to work twice as hard on a song, maybe 10 times as hard.

And Becca will pick up - and she's also an amazing musician. So she'll pick up the song and be able to read it down, you know, and then just sing it. And I don't read music that well. I read some and it takes me forever.

LUKER: But I learned a lot from Danny because he's such a great actor that it made me better over the years. Absolutely.

GROSS: Can you put your finger on something that you learned from him?

LUKER: Oh, just how to communicate a song. When I was younger, I would really fall back on just the fact that I had a pretty voice, you know? So as I matured, especially after I met Danny, he would help me make things work more, mean more. I learned to act a song as opposed to just sing it.

GROSS: Just a few months ago in June, when you had a little more breath, you did a Zoom event to raise awareness about ALS. And you sang a Jerome Kern song called "Not You" that's also on your Jerome Kern album. I thought since we're talking about your voice, that we might hear a little bit of that.

LUKER: I just think it's one of the most beautiful early Kern songs ever. Sondheim said he liked it, too, so that's good. Kern just speaks to me so well, you know? I feel like it's - I was meant to sing Kern.

GROSS: Thank you so much for this conversation and for sharing so much with us.

LUKER: Thank you.

BURSTEIN: Lovely talking to you, Terry.

GROSS: Here's Rebecca Luker, recorded in June singing the Jerome Kern song "Not You."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUKER: (Singing) There's a certain someone, and I'm anxious he should hear me. Who? You. Always has me worried and in trouble when he's near me. Who? You. Some are born to make all they know forlorn, raising wall where only a laugh should grow. But there's one I know, if he were near me now would cheer me. Who? Not you. I used to think my strength of mind was fine, an independent spirit, mine. I used to think I'd walk alone, do everything upon my own and that sweethearts true were for girls that I knew and were not in my line. But now I know that I'm a clinging vine. To stand alone, I must decline.

(Singing) There's a certain someone, and I'm anxious he should hear me. Who? You. Always has me worried and in trouble when he's near me. Who? You. Some are born to make all they know forlorn, raising wall where only a laugh should grow. But there's one I know, if he were near me now, would cheer me. Who? Who? Not you.

GROSS: That performance from last June turned out to be Rebecca Luker's final performance. She died of ALS last Wednesday. She was 59. The interview we just heard with her and her husband, Danny Burstein, was recorded on October 12. I'm grateful for the recordings she's left us with. We send our deepest sympathies to Danny Burstein.

After a short break, our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will pay tribute to a few of the jazz musicians who left us this year. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONNY ROLLINS' "SKYLARK")

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