FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – Pianist and vocalist Ann Rabson, co-founder of the trio Saffire — The Uppity Blues Women, died Wednesday in Virginia after a battle with cancer. She was 67.
A barrelhouse blues pianist, Rabson was also a songwriter and guitarist. She recorded eight albums with Saffire and one solo CD for Alligator Records.
Rabson was best known for her work with Saffire, which she formed with one of her guitar students, Gaye Adegbalola. Andra Faye McIntosh completed the trio. Saffire disbanded in 2009 after 25 years together.
While Rabson didn’t start playing piano until she was 35, DownBeat magazine said she played “bluesy, honky-tonk piano with staggering authority.”
Her father gave her a guitar when she was 17 and she idolized blues greats such as Memphis Minnie and Big Bill Broonzy. A native New Yorker who grew up in Ohio, she moved to Fredericksburg in 1971 where she gave music lessons.
“Blues speaks to me directly,” she said. “It wasn’t a choice. I was drawn to it naturally, sort of like a sheepdog with sheep.”
Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, a friend and producer, described Rabson as a “delightful, smart and funny person” and a dedicated champion of the blues.
“We were blessed to have known her,” he said.