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Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in song, with help from her family / Chicago Tribune

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The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18, at age 87, prompted tributes from around the world. But none more touching than the one that will be featured during "Live with Carnegie Hall: Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg," a prerecorded program to be posted online Nov. 19.

Chicago vocalist Patrice Michaels – Ginsburg's daughter-in-law – will sing "My Dearest Ruth," by Chicago composer Stacy Garrop. Its lyrics are drawn from a letter that Martin D. Ginsburg, the justice's husband, wrote to his wife on June 17, 2010, 10 days before his death at age 78.

"My dearest Ruth," it begins.

"You are the only person I have loved in my life, setting aside, a bit, parents and kids and their kids, and I have admired and loved you almost since the day we first met at Cornell some (59) years ago. What a treat it has been to watch you progress to the very top of the legal world!!

"I will be in JH Medical Center until Friday, June 25, I believe, and between then and now I shall think hard on my remaining health and life, and whether on balance the time has come for me to tough it out or to take leave of life because the loss of quality now simply overwhelms. I hope you will support where I come out, but I understand you may not. I will not love you a jot less. Marty."

To hear a slightly adapted version of those words sung to composer Garrop's intensely lyrical music is to feel the profundity of one couple's long life together, the pain of separation, the stature of Justice Ginsburg's work and the depth of her husband's admiration of it.

When Michaels performed the song at the Spertus Institute in May 2019, with the handwritten letter projected onto a screen onstage, "more than a few listeners were seen dabbing their eyes," I wrote in my Tribune review.

The composition is drawn from "Notorious RBG in Song," a 2018 Cedille Records album conceived by Michaels and featuring her suite "The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs," plus music by other composers. All of which sheds light on singer Michaels' relationship with Justice Ginsburg, the mother of Michaels' husband, James Ginsburg.

"It's been quite a journey learning to perform that piece," says Michaels of "My Dearest Ruth."

"As you can imagine, it's very emotional to read his letter. The first year I was performing that piece, I had to work very hard to learn not to well up. And Kuang-Hao (Huang, collaborative pianist) can attest to the many times we would have to stop in the middle of rehearsal, because I would simply be unable to continue.

"As I have matured with the song, I have been able to employ my more professional approach and allow the audience to have the experience of emotion that they should have."

But there are layers to this story that listeners could not know and that Michaels experiences whenever she sings this music.

"It's all very bittersweet," says Michaels.

"Live with Carnegie Hall: Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg," a free event, will go online at 6:30 p.m. Central Nov. 19 at https://www.carnegiehall.org/events. PHOTO: Brian Cassella - Anthony Souffle

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