When Broadway lost one of its most talented and beloved stars on 23 December 2020, the theater world reacted swiftly to her passing with an outpouring of grief tempered with affection and gratitude. The staff and trustees of the Foundation mourned with the rest, yet we were also grateful for the privilege of having worked with Rebecca Luker many times over the years. She became an advocate for the Lotte Lenya Competition, serving as a judge of the final round (her first time judging the finals coincided with her fiftieth birthday) and the semifinal round three times each, including the 2020 semifinals, which took place after she had been diagnosed with ALS. In that capacity, she not only helped to select prizewinners but coached them as well, sharing insights about performance and presentation from her own extensive experience. Numerous young singer-actors benefited from her expertise, grace, and wisdom.
Kim Kowalke, president of the Kurt Weill Foundation and founder of the Lotte Lenya Competition, is pleased to announce that the Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to establish an annual “Rebecca Luker Award” for an outstanding performance of a selection from the Golden Age of American musical theater by a finalist in the Competition: “Luker’s career as an ingenue centered on this repertory, which she performed definitively and seemingly effortlessly. Her recordings remain a model and a standard for contestants in the Lotte Lenya Competition. The courage and commitment she demonstrated in adjudicating last year’s semifinals from her wheelchair was an inspiration for the thirteen singers who were fortunate to experience Rebecca’s warmth, wisdom, kindness, and radiance while she was already struggling with the ravages of ALS. Sitting next to Rebecca as she adjudicated and coached on six occasions was a privilege and profound tutelage I will treasure always.”
A striking assortment of colleagues have posted tributes to Luker, including a heartfelt “in memoriam” from Foundation trustee Victoria Clark. Here are some others:
Donna Murphy: Oh Becca. It doesn’t seem possible. Today, as we grieve your passing, I celebrate the remarkable woman and artist who blessed us all with such beauty, radiance, your exquisite talent, resilience, strength, honesty, humility, humor and most generous kindness. I feel so lucky to have travelled in overlapping circles of art & friendship & colleagues & parenting for many years now. To have witnessed your grace & been transported by your most glorious voice to places only you could take me. And now, after being another inspiring warrior goddess in my life, as you shared your journey with ALS so openly, honestly, with courage, advocacy & a centered intention to make a difference for yourself & others. . . . I pray you are at peace, or will be. And that your glorious voice & illuminating spirit are free to sing once more.
Michael Cerveris: It’s rare once in your life to encounter an earth angel. I had the experience twice, playing opposite Rebecca Luker in Passion and in Fun Home. To be in her company was to bask in the reflected glow of her sun-like light. There was no one more humble, more unexpectedly funny, or more glorious when she sang. . . . To know her and work at her side was the deepest kind of grace. RIP.
Kelli O’Hara: Your example and spirit have always lifted me up. They always will. That’s the beauty of it. You are forever in all of us who ever dreamed of being ingenues who roar. Go roar with Marin and Barbara and Kaytie etc etc. Great Heroines. We will always hear you.
Laura Osnes: Your voice was the first to inspire me; your career, the one to emulate; your compassion, so generous and true; your kindness, unmatched; your ego, completely non-existent . . . Since singing along to Secret Garden at six years old, without even knowing or trying, dear Becca, your wings helped show me how to fly. . . . Heaven’s choir just got a major upgrade.
Laura Benanti: Rebecca Luker was a star. But she never acted like one. She was a friend to all, regardless of their position. She knew everyone’s names, and often their birthdays. She was humble, loving and kind. So much so that you would sometimes forget her otherworldly talent. And then she would sing, and her golden voice would wrap you in peace. I will always love you, Becca.
Susan H. Schulman: During her audition [for The Sound of Music], Rebecca brought such a freshness to the music, as if I had never heard the score before. Little hairs stood up on the back of my neck. You don’t expect songs that you are so familiar with to take you by surprise that way. She has the most glorious voice. The instrument is so pure.
Mark Jacoby: Rebecca is a very truthful actor. By that I mean that she doesn’t play the character, she inhabits the character. And what a great singer. I have not heard another voice like hers on Broadway in my lifetime.
Kristin Chenoweth: My friend and one of the main reasons I wanted to be a soprano. . . . Her voice was soprano heaven.
LaChanze: A huge loss for the American theater.
Obituaries and Tributes
Hollywood Reporter (by her husband, Danny Burstein)
Fresh Air (NPR)
The two photos below show Rebecca Luker at work during the 2020 Lotte Lenya Competition semifinals in March. The contestant in the second image is Michael Hewitt. Photographer: Mike Gerard.