NATIONAL NEWS

Byron Janis, renowned American classical pianist who overcame debilitating arthritis, dies at 95

Mar 17, 2024, 12:59 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Byron Janis, a renowned American concert pianist and composer who broke barriers as a Cold War era culture ambassador and later overcame severe arthritis that nearly robbed him of his playing abilities, has died. He was 95.

Janis passed away Thursday evening at a hospital in New York City, according to his wife, Maria Cooper Janis. In a statement, she described her husband as “an exceptional human being who took his talents to their highest pinnacle.”

A childhood prodigy who studied under Vladimir Horowitz, Janis emerged in the late 1940s as one of the most celebrated virtuosos of a new generation of talented American pianists.

In 1960, he was selected as the first musician to tour the then-Soviet Union as part of a cultural exchange program organized by the U.S. State Department. His recitals of Chopin and Mozart awed Russian audiences and were described by the New York Times as helping to break “the musical iron curtain.”

Seven years later, while visiting a friend in France, Janis discovered a pair of long-lost Chopin scores in a trunk of old clothing. He performed the waltzes frequently over the ensuing years, eventually releasing a widely hailed compilation featuring those performances.

But his storied career, which spanned more than eight decades, was also marked by physical adversity, including a freak childhood accident that left his left pinky permanently numb and convinced doctors he would never play again.

He suffered an even greater setback as an adult. At age 45, he was diagnosed with a severe form of psoriatic arthritis in his hands and wrists. Janis kept the condition secret for over a decade, often playing through excruciating pain.

“It was a life-and-death struggle for me every day for years,” Janis later told the Chicago Tribune. “At every point, I thought of not being able to continue performing, and it terrified me. Music, after all, was my life, my world, my passion.”

He revealed his diagnosis publicly in 1985 following a performance at the Reagan White House, where he was announced as a spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation.

The condition required multiple surgeries and temporarily slowed his career. However, he was able to resume performing after making adjustments to his playing technique that eased pressure on his swollen fingers.

Janis remained active in his later years, composing scores for television shows and musicals, while putting out a series of unreleased live performances. His wife, Cooper Janis, said her husband continued to create music until his final days.

“In spite of adverse physical challenges throughout his career, he overcame them and it did not diminish his artistry,” she added. “Music is Byron’s soul, not a ticket to stardom and his passion for and love of creating music, informed every day of his life of 95 years.

National News

Associated Press

Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn pleads not guilty in Arizona’s fake elector case

PHOENIX (AP) — Lawyers Boris Epshteyn and Jenna Ellis and former U.S. Senate candidate James Lamon have pleaded not guilty to nine felony charges for their roles in trying to overturn former President Donald Trump’s Arizona election loss to Joe Biden. The hearing Tuesday in a Phoenix courtroom marked the last of 18 arraignments in […]

14 minutes ago

Associated Press

Vermont man sentenced to 25 years in prison for kidnapping woman and son outside of a mall

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont man has been sentenced to 25 years in prison after he was convicted of kidnapping a woman and her 4-year-old son by forcing them into her car outside a New Hampshire mall and bringing them to Vermont while he was searching for his estranged wife. Everett Simpson, 46, was […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Singer Justin Timberlake arrested and accused of driving while intoxicated on New York’s Long Island

NEW YORK (AP) — Justin Timberlake was arrested early Tuesday on allegations that the singer was driving while intoxicated on New York’s Long Island, authorities said. Timberlake was released from custody later in the morning after being arraigned in Sag Harbor, on the eastern end of Long Island. He was charged with one DWI count, […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Residents flee New Mexican town as wildfires bear down on village of 7,000

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Residents of the mountain village of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico fled their homes under evacuation orders with little time to rescue belongings as fast-moving wildfires bore down on the town of 7,000 residents. Traffic clogged downtown streets of the normally pastoral village and summer vacation destination for hours Monday […]

12 hours ago

Associated Press

Tens of millions in the US are under dangerous heat warnings

PHOENIX (AP) — Extreme heat alerts continued for tens of millions of people in the United States on Tuesday as cities including Chicago broke records at the start of a week of sweltering weather. States in the Midwest started to bake Monday in what the National Weather Service called a dangerous and long duration heat […]

12 hours ago

Associated Press

Convicted killer of California college student Kristin Smart ordered to pay $350k in restitution

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — A California judge ruled Monday that a man convicted of killing 19-year-old college student Kristin Smart in 1996 must pay just over $350,000 to her family for costs they incurred after her death. Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jennifer O’Keefe ordered Paul Flores to make the payments after a […]

16 hours ago

Byron Janis, renowned American classical pianist who overcame debilitating arthritis, dies at 95