About My Mother, Elaine

Elaine is an important role model to young players who otherwise would have no clue that women were indeed a part of traditional Yiddish music,” the program’s officials wrote in announcing the fellowship.

"Beautiful, smart, fearless, groovy Elaine Hoffman Watts your memory is the richest blessing."

-Adoring fan

In 1954, Elaine Hoffman became the first female graduate in percussion from the Curtis Institute of Music, and immediately was hired by the New Orleans Symphony.

After a year there, she returned to a career as a classical timpanist in the Philadelphia area. She played the drums for the Ice Capades, at the Valley Forge Music Fair, and for theatrical and opera performances.

But as a performer, she was shown the door by many klezmer bands because she was a woman. It was only when her father arranged a gig that she got work playing klezmer.

Her break came in the early 1990s, when Mrs. Watts was discovered by folklorists and music experts steeped in klezmer who made her into a performing luminary.

The experts were thrilled to find her, Lankin-Watts said. “Look at this uncovered treasure,” they told one another.

For more than six decades, ending in July, she taught klezmer drumming and traditional drumming to students in her Montgomery County home. Many of her pupils – male and female —  have gone on to successful careers as percussionists.

In 2000, she was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. In 2007, she received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.

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