June LeBell, a longtime host for WQXR and the first woman to announce for a major commercial classical radio station, died of ovarian cancer on Sunday, April 30. She was 73 years old.
For nearly 30 years, LeBell graced WQXR with her friendly personality and deep knowledge of its musical subject matter. During her time with the station, she interviewed many notable musicians, composers and critics. Recognitions for her on-air legacy and accomplishments were many, among them a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broadcasters Club of Florida and a Gabriel Award for outstanding broadcasts. She was also named a “Quintessential New York Woman” by Town and Country Magazine.
LeBell was born in New York City in 1944, and her early years and education revolved around music. She attended the High School of Music and Art and continued her education at the Mannes College of Music (now Mannes School of Music), and graduated from the Hartt School of music. She built a career as a professional singer; her teachers were Adele Addison and Martial Singher. LeBelle performed recitals in Tanglewood and Aspen, and also toured Europe.
in 1973, the 29-year-old LeBell joined WQXR as not only its first woman host, but that of any major commercial classical radio station. Every Wednesday evening, listeners were treated to the sound of her voice on “IBM’s Salute to the Arts,” an award-winning musical documentary program.
One of her shows, “Kitchen Classics,” was a spirited focus on the intersection of two of LeBell’s great loves: music and food. Her guests — who included Julia Child, Itzhak Perlman, Marilyn Horne and many others — would engage in discussions about their favorite foods, while LeBell shared appropriately curated musical selections. A natural outgrowth of this program was a cookbook, Kitchen Classics from the Philharmonic (Doubleday, 1992), which paired close looks of various personalities from a century and a half of New York Philharmonic history with a recipe to match.
Above: A broadcast of "Kitchen Classics," with guest Julia Child.
LeBell is remembered fondly by her colleagues. Nimet Habachy, a fellow WQXR host and a close friend, considers herself extremely fortunate to have known LeBell over the years. As the only two women at WQXR for a time, she noted how LeBell “just took her in” and described a blossoming professional and personal friendship. “She was a good lady and exciting to be around,” said Habachy. LeBell was active, ready to play a part in the larger community. “She was always vibrant, and I loved her.”
Morning show host Jeff Spurgeon also had the pleasure of working with LeBell. "I think she loved her life and was grateful for all the opportunities she’d known. She was supportive of her colleagues and remained interested in us and in WQXR even after she left New York and began the new chapter of her life in Florida," said Spurgeon. "It’s no surprise that she became a part of the cultural scene in Sarasota — he loved celebrating the arts and knew how to do it well."
In addition to her work with WQXR, LeBell served on the advisory boards of the Bloomingdale School of Music and the High School of Music and Art, as well as the auxiliary board of the New York Philharmonic. She also shared her vast knowledge with others in lectures across the city. She hosted the lecture series “The Sound of Broadway” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and other cultural institutions she spoke at included the Guggenheim and the Whitney Museums.
In her later home of Sarasota, Florida, LeBell hosted Music Mondays at the Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning.
Update (May 5, 2017): Memorial services for June LeBell will he held in both New York and Sarasota. The New York Service is at 3 pm on Saturday, May 20, at Marble Collegiate Church (Fifth Avenue and 29th Street). The Sarasota service is on Monday May 8th at 2 pm, and will be live-streamed by the church at churchofthepalms.org.