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Mary Lofstrom

Jazz elated, inspired life of Mary Lofstrom

By Nguyen Huy Vu
Seattle Times staff reporter

Mary Lofstrom loved jazz. She sang it. She wrote it. Even after being diagnosed with scleroderma, a rare autoimmune disease, she went out to clubs to listen to it.

"She would often say jazz was her church music," said Coralie Janssen, Ms. Lofstrom's longtime partner. "It inspired her, elated her and took her to spiritual places."

On Oct. 20, 2003 the Seattle jazz vocalist lost her battle with scleroderma and ovarian cancer. She died in her Maple Leaf neighborhood home with her parents and Janssen at her side. She was 38.

Ms. Lofstrom was the ninth child born to Dr. Dennis and Dorothy Lofstrom in Minneapolis, Minn., and she grew up on the family's 500 acre-farm just south of Brainerd. She graduated from Brainerd High School in 1983 and moved to Saint Peter, Minn., where she attended Gustavus Adolphus College to study art history. She graduated with honors in 1987.

In 1988, Ms. Lofstrom met Janssen. Two years later, the couple exchanged vows at a commitment ceremony and moved to Seattle.

After years studying and performing vocal jazz, Ms. Lofstrom recorded her first CD, "My Secret Joy," in 1997.

In 2000, she began suffering bouts of fatigue. Normally athletic, she could no longer walk more than a block without being exhausted. The swimsuit she used so often remained on its hanger. She was diagnosed with scleroderma a year later but continued to work part time at the Seattle Art Museum.

She recorded her second CD, "Ginger Comes to Stay," in the summer of 2002.

Laura Welland, who played acoustic bass on the album, said Ms. Lofstrom wasn't afraid to take chances with her music and wrote openly lesbian lyrics.

"The thing I admire the most about her and (that) set her apart from other people is that though the jazz world is very competitive and kind of judgmental and critical, she didn't care and did her own thing anyway," Welland said. "She just marched forward with what she wanted to do and that was so inspiring. She told me in April, when you realize you have little time left it becomes very clear what becomes important for you to do."

The diagnosis of ovarian cancer came a few months after the release of Ms. Lofstrom's second album and her health began to decline rapidly. The scleroderma robbed her of the use of her hands, and she could no longer pound on her beloved drums. She could no longer sing. When she finally could no longer go to jazz clubs, she spent her days reading and writing prose.

Throughout the ordeal, Janssen said, her partner always was considerate of others.

"Even when she had no energy, she would go out and meet someone for coffee and talk," Janssen said. "She lived her life with grace, and she died with grace."

In June, Ms. Lofstrom earned a 2003 Outmusic Award in New York City for Outstanding New Recording — Female for "Ginger Comes to Stay." Outmusic is a network of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender musicians and supporters.

"Mary touched so many lives, and I was blessed to have 15 years with her," Janssen said.

In addition to her parents and Janssen, Ms. Lofstrom is survived by her stepmother, six brothers, four sisters, and several nieces and nephews.