Former Los Altos resident Frances Blaisdell, 97, woman flutist who broke down barriers

Ms. Blaisdell

Former Los Altos resident Frances Blaisdell Williams, one of the foremost women flutists of the 20th century, died March 11 in Portola Valley. She was 97.

Born in New Jersey in 1912, Ms. Blaisdell began playing the piccolo at age 4, coached by her father, an amateur flutist. After studying with one of the flutists in the New York Philharmonic, she became the first woman wind player admitted to the Juilliard School of Music.

During a distinguished career, she was the first woman to play a concerto with the New York Philharmonic and the first woman to play in the wind section of that orchestra.

Ms. Blaisdell appeared as soloist with the National Orchestral Association, the New Friends of Music, the BBC, NBC, CBS, at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, and performed and recorded with soprano Lily Pons. During the Depression, she played with the Phil Spitalny All-Girls Orchestra, both on radio ("The Hour of Charm") and in vaudeville, and during World War II played in numerous Broadway shows.

In 1937, Ms. Blaisdell married Alexander Williams, assistant first clarinet with the New York Philharmonic and later principal clarinet with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. Together they toured with the Blaisdell Woodwind Quintet and had a regular series on NBC and CBS radio stations.

Ms. Blaisdell and her husband moved to California in 1973 to be near their children and grandchildren.

She became a flute instructor and taught for 35 years at Stanford University. In 1992, the National Flute Association honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award. At the 2006 graduation, Stanford officials presented Ms. Blaisdell with the Dinkelspiel Award for Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Education.

Ms. Blaisdell and Mr. Williams were married for 66 years until his death in 2003.

A devoted wife, mother and grandmother, she is survived by her daughter Alexandra Hawley and son John Williams; grandchildren Alison Johnston, Pamela Hawley and Alexander Williams; and great-grandchildren Will, Connor and Lindsey Johnston.

A memorial service is scheduled 4 p.m. May 31 at Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley. To honor her love of the flute and teaching, a scholarship fund has been established in her name to subsidize flute lessons for Stanford students.

Send contributions to the Frances Blaisdell Flute Scholarship Fund, Stanford University, Department of Music, Stanford 94305.

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