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Recent Deaths In The Arts Community Spark Reflection

courtesy of the family

Three notable arts figures died in Kansas City in recent weeks: Ann K. Brown, Brenda Nelson, and Tommy Ruskin.

Drummer Tommy Ruskin, 72, died the morning of Jan. 1, after a long illness.

A native of Kansas City, Ruskin’s career spanned nearly half a century. He began performing as a teenager with singers such as Marilyn Maye, and went on to play with other jazz greats like Al Cohn, Scott Hamilton, Gene Harris, Zoot Sims, and Bill Watrous.

As the leader of local jam sessions, Ruskin played in venues across Kansas City. He and his wife, jazz vocalist Julie Turner, also performed for 15 years at the Majestic Steakhouse. Before his illness, Ruskin was still playing several times a week. 

In a tribute on Facebook, jazz trumpeter Stan Kessler wrote: "Tommy was the swinginest drummer I ever played with. He was a mentor to so many musicians, not just drummers. Countless were his minions and admirers, including some of the top drummers in the world." For Kessler, Ruskin was the "template by which all other local jazz drummers were compared."

Ruskin is survived by Turner, his wife of 51 years, and their son, Brian, also a musician.

A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 2 p.m., at Johnson County Funeral Chapel and Memorial Gardens, 11200 Metcalf Avenue, Overland Park, Kan. 

Credit Ann K. Brown
Model Tiffany Thompson started working with photographer Ann K. Brown when she was a teenager.

Ann K. Brown, 51, died suddenly, and unexpectedly, on Christmas Day.

Brown created photography and digital art, which was published in local and national magazines such as Kansas City Magazine and Psychology Today. 

Her artistry was reflected in her creative use of costuming, makeup, and backdrops.

"Since I was 14, Ann K. Brown photographed me," wrote artist and model Tiffany Thompson. "Ann Brown made me feel beautiful."

Brown, a native of Excelsior Springs, Mo., is survived by her husband, Robert Brown. 

Of his partner of more than 25 years, Robert wrote: "Ann was a wonderful, funny, friendly, talented, loving person and the world is a sadder and less sparkly place without her and I miss her so much ... just so much."

A celebration of Brown’s life is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Arts Asylum, 1000 E. 9th Street, Kansas City, Mo.

Credit courtesy of the family
courtesy of the family
Brenda Nelson, an actress, model, and restaurant manager, died on Christmas Day.

Brenda Nelson, 54, also died on December 25.

Nelson was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. A native of Warrensburg, Mo., she moved to Kansas City in the early 1980s.

A model and actress, Nelson performed with Late Night Theatre, including an appearance in one of their first musicals, Voodoo Annie. She also briefly curated a gallery space in the basement of the restaurant 1924 Main (now called Manifesto).

For the last two years, she and partner Eddie Osborne managed Café Thyme at Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Mo.

Artist Bernal Koehrsen III wrote this of his friend of more than 20 years: "I keep reflecting on the consistency of her spirit, joy, and the love she projected ... Brenda did exactly as she pleased." 

A visitation will take place today from 6 to 8 p.m., at Sweeney-Phillips & Holdren Funeral Home in Warrensburg. Services are scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m., Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Warrensburg.

KCUR's Gina Kauffman also contributed to this report. 

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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