Singing for your sustenance

Ellen Futterman, Editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light


Singing for your sustenance

I’m a sucker for stories about people who never give up on their passions, probably because it gives me hope that maybe, in time, I’ll finish that work of fiction I’ve been futzing with since the early Reagan years.


In the case of Debbie Schuster, her passion is singing. She grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. singing her way through high school and college musicals. After she moved to St. Louis to pursue a law degree and a master’s in health administration, she met her husband, Dan Schuster, a physician who played classical piano. It was the perfect union in many ways, not the least of which was that he played and she sang.

But as it often does, life got in the way of Schuster’s singing. Between raising children and building her own practice in elder law and disabilities, she placed singing, at least in any meaningful way, on the back burner.

Then, five years ago, the very terrible happened. Her beloved husband died of sudden cardiac death. He was 58 years old; she was 46.

It wasn’t that long after her husband’s death, as Schuster was driving her youngest of two sons to a music lesson, he turned to her and asked, “Mom, why don’t you start singing again?”

It was a fair question, considering he knew that it was his mother’s other great love. She used to flit around the house singing when the boys were little, much to their chagrin. “It was the one thing that always gave me incredible joy,” Schuster said recently over lunch. “So I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I start singing again?’”

She found a wonderful music teacher at Beverly Milder’s Musical Arts in Chesterfield and began taking singing lessons. After an acquaintance told her about the St. Louis Cabaret Conference held here in August, she submitted an audition tape and was accepted. There, she met Carol Schmidt, a pianist, composer and adjunct professor at Webster University who for years was part of the well-known local folk duo Jasmine, with percussionist and singer Michele Isam. Schmidt, who became something of a mentor to Schuster, encouraged her to consider doing her own show.

And so, Schuster practiced hard and eventually did just that, in March 2011 at the Kranzberg Arts Center. “It was around my 50th birthday and looking back, it was way too autobiographical,” said Schuster, who explained she chose songs that highlighted different periods in her life. While the experience was “positive,” she thought what would actually be fun was to collaborate on a musical project.

Her friend and fellow collaborator, Katie McGrath, who Schuster met through the cabaret community here, had the same idea. “Katie has this incredible talent for telling funny yet very honest stories, which are so integral to the kind of musical show we were interested in doing,” said Schuster.  The two approached Schmidt, another remarkable songstress and storyteller, who in turn brought in Isam, also accomplished in both song and story, and before you knew it, “Women Under the Influence” was born.

After nearly a year of rehearsing, on Saturday, Nov. 17, starting at 8 p.m., the four will perform their interpretations of girl-group musical influences, from LaBelle to Adele. The 90-minute show will feature 18 songs and no doubt some hilarious stories, and will take place downtown at Joe Buck’s Showroom, 1000 Clark Street. Tickets are $20 and can be ordered through

 “With Carol’s musical direction and Michele’s harmonic coaching, and with Katie’s amazing contributions, this has been a true labor of love,” said Schuster, who is a member of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel. “In this new chapter, I’ve renewed a wonderful, fun passion that is enabling me to meet new people and experience life to its fullest.”

Now that’s something to sing about, she adds.

Say cheese (cake)

Who doesn’t like free cheesecake? OK, maybe the toddler in the Capital One commercials with Jimmy Fallon.

But free cheesecake, are you kidding? Especially free cheesecake made by none other than Hank Krussel of Hank’s Cheesecake in Richmond Heights.

From Monday, Nov. 12 through Saturday, Nov. 17, Hank’s will be giving a free slice of cheesecake to everyone coming into the bakery as a way of celebrating 25 years in business. Hank’s is located at 1063 S. Big Bend Boulevard.

“I credit my success to two factors,” said Krussel. “Number one is my business philosophy:  Provide a consistently superior product that promotes itself and a discriminating clientele will buy it. Number two is my family of extraordinary, devoted employees who have wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to that philosophy.”

Hank’s Cheesecakes offers more than 35 flavors of dessert cheesecake as well as several savory varieties along with carrot cake, flourless chocolate cake and other non-cheesecake desserts. The free cheesecake slices will feature all sorts of varieties. We sampled the pumpkin swirl and it was delish!

Reunion of Freedom Marchers and supporters

In December, 1987, 250,000 participated in the Freedom Sunday March on Washington in support of Soviet Jews. For a local commemoration of this historic event, the Jewish Community Relations Council is asking anyone with photos and other memorabilia to email [email protected] or call 314- 442-3871.

Additionally, a reunion of Freedom Sunday March participants is being planned. Please contact the JCRC for additional information.

Love for Lois

I am sorry to tell you that Jewish Light columnist and Wonder(ful) Woman Lois Caplan has taken a nasty fall. She is recovering, but her “Kibbitzing with Caplan” column is on hiatus. Nevertheless, please continue to send information about upcoming charity benefits as well as community do-gooders to me ([email protected]om) and I’ll do my best to get them into the paper.

To that end, the St. Louis Men’s Group Against Cancer is holding its 43rd annual gala at the Ritz Carlton at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16. This amazing group of men has raised more than $4 million for cancer research, prevention and care, and donated nearly $360,000 to 34 local cancer-related charities this past May. Local cancer charities will again benefit from funds raised by the dinner, which will feature ESPN analyst and major league manager Bobby Valentine as keynote speaker. Tickets are $375 per person.

For more information, contact Margie Price at 314-428-3331 or go to