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Phoebe Snow, ‘Poetry Man’ singer, dies

Phoebe Snow, ‘Poetry Man’ singer, dies

Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 8:01 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — It wasn’t long after the release of “Poetry Man,” the breezy, jazzy love song that would make Phoebe Snow a star, that the singer experienced another event that would dramatically alter her life.
In 1975, she gave birth to a daughter, Valerie Rose, who was found to be severely brain-damaged. Her husband split from her soon after the baby was born. And, at a time when many disabled children were sent to institutions, Snow decided to keep her daughter at home and care for the child herself.
The decision to be Valerie’s primary caretaker would lead her to abandon music for a while and enter into ill-fated business decisions in the quest to stay solvent enough to take care of Valerie.
Snow, who worked her way back into the music performing world in the 1980s and continued to perform in recent years, died on Tuesday from complications of a brain hemorrhage she suffered in January 2010, said Rick Miramontez, her longtime friend and public relations representative. She was 60.
Snow never regretted her decision to put aside music so she could focus on Valerie’s care. She was devastated when her daughter, who was not expected to live beyond her toddler years, died in 2007 at 31.
“She was my universe,” she told the website PopEntertainment.com that year. “She was the nucleus of everything. I used to wonder, am I missing something? No. I had such a sublime, transcendent experience with my child. She had fulfilled every profound love and intimacy and desire I could have ever dreamed of.”
After her stroke last year, Snow endured bouts of blood clots, pneumonia and congestive heart failure, said her manager, Sue Cameron.
“The loss of this unique and untouchable voice is incalculable,” Cameron said. “Phoebe was one of the brightest, funniest and most talented singer-songwriters of all time and, more importantly, a magnificent mother to her late brain-damaged daughter, Valerie, for 31 years. Phoebe felt that was her greatest accomplishment.”
Known as a folk guitarist who made forays into jazz and blues, Snow put her stamp on soul classics such as “Shakey Ground,” “Love Makes a Woman” and “Mercy, Mercy Mercy” on over a half dozen albums.
Snow’s defining hit, however, was “Poetry Man,“ which she wrote herself. The song, anchored by her husky voice and a fluid guitar, was a romantic ode to a married man. It reached the Top 5 on the pop singles chart in 1975, and garnered her a Grammy nomination for best new artist.
Soon after that, her daughter was born. She was born with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain cavity that inhibits brain development. Snow’s husband, musician Phil Kearns, left her while Valerie was still a baby.
For years, Snow fought the diagnosis of Valerie’s mental condition, but in 1983, she told The New York Times that she had accepted her daughter’s fate.
While she was caring for Valerie, her career started to take a downward spiral. Inexperienced in the music business, she broke contracts with record companies and others, and found herself embroiled in a number of lawsuits and severe financial problems.
She started to make her way back into the music business and by the early 1980s was performing shows again. In 1989, she released her first album in eight years, “Something Real.” She also supplemented her income doing through the 1980s and into the 1990s by singing commercial jingle for companies including Michelob, Hallmark and AT&T.
Among her other hits was her duet with Paul Simon on the song “Gone at Last.” She also sang “Have Mercy” with Jackson Browne.
Snow was born Phoebe Ann Laub to white Jewish parents in New York City in 1950, and raised in Teaneck, N.J. Though many assumed she was black, Snow never claimed African-American ancestry.
She changed her name after seeing Phoebe Snow, an advertising character for a railroad, emblazoned on trains that passed through her hometown. Snow quit college after two years to

Published in The Messenger 4.27.11

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