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The Kansas Connection to Itzhak Perlman's Career in Music

Conductor and violinist Itzhak Perlman (Photo from Itzhak Perlman's website:

Kansas has made some notable contributions to the world of classical music, including at least two well-known opera singers. Commentator Rex Buchanan recently discovered another -- and less well-known -- connection between Kansas and classical music.  

Commentator Rex Buchanan is director emeritus of the Kansas Geological Survey. He lives in Lawrence.


A few weeks ago, Itzhak Perlman and his wife Toby were at Kansas City’s Kauffman Center, performing and talking about their lives in music. At one point, Toby said something about Kansas that was news to me.

Now I don’t claim much knowledge of classical music. But I do know something about Kansas. So how come I didn’t know that Dorothy DeLay, one of Itzhak Perlman’s early violin instructors, came from Medicine Lodge, down by the Oklahoma border.

Turns out DeLay was born in Medicine Lodge in 1917. Her father was the local school superintendent and an amateur cellist. Her mother played the piano. Dorothy started violin lessons at age four, gave a recital when she was five.

They moved from Medicine Lodge to Neodesha, in southeastern Kansas, where Dorothy graduated from high school. She went on to Michigan State, then Julliard. In 1946, she went back to Julliard as a teacher When Perlman came to the U.S. from Israel in 1958, Dorothy DeLay was one of his first teachers.

She taught all sorts of noted violinists, held important teaching positions. In 1994, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton. She died in 2002 at age 84.

She’s hardly the only important figure in classical music to come from Kansas. Opera singer Joyce DiDonato was born in Prairie Village and went to Wichita State. She’s won three Grammys. And she sang the national anthem before game 7 of the 2014 World Series in Kansas City, something I did know.

Samuel Ramey is an opera singer from Colby, out in northwestern Kansas. He went to Kansas State and Wichita State, before starring in the New York City Opera, where his booming bass led to all sorts of roles, especially as the devil or villains, in various operas.

I know I’m leaving other famous figures in classical music who came from Kansas. But one thing seems to tie these three together. They remember their connection to this place. In spite of a relentless touring schedule, Joyce DiDonato performs regularly in Kansas City. Samuel Ramey is a professor at WSU and will be at the Lied Center here at KU next spring.

And Dorothy DeLay once said that if the East Coast broke off from the rest of the country, she’d go back to Medicine Lodge and open a violin school for children. Perlman says that Delay always corrected him gently. When he made a mistake, he said, her response was, “Sugarplum, what are you missing here?” Doesn’t that sound like somebody from Kansas?

I wish we honored artists and teachers in this state the way we celebrate generals and politicians and athletes. I know there’s a sign on I-70 out by Colby that recognizes Ramey, just down the road from the tiny town of Caruso, ironically enough. But maybe there should be something similar on the way into Medicine Lodge, at least a nod to the teacher, the master, who nurtured the talents of someone we do know.

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