last updated
Tuesday, 30-Sep-2014 09:13:23 EDT



Portia Nelson

Singer, songwriter, film, stage and TV actress Portia Nelson passed away on Tuesday, March 6th after a long period of deteriorating health. Reportedly she was 80 years old. On Monday night a revue of her work, "This Life," was honored as the Outstanding Revue of the Year at the Back Stage Bistro Awards.

In 1996, her song "As I Remember Him" won the MAC Award for Song of the Year, and a Bistro Award for Lifetime Achievement. Portia was probably best known for the song "Sunday in New York." Her tunes have been sung by Nancy LaMott, Ann Hampton Callaway and Michael Feinstein. And Marilyn Horne sang her "Make a Rainbow" at President Clinton's inaugural ceremony. Portia, herself, was a singer during the Golden Age of cabaret (in the '50s), and she appeared as a nun in the movie "The Sound of Music."

Portia was honored earlier this year at the MAC/ASCAP Songwriters' Showcase and was present at that event to receive the applause and recognition from her fans. Her last public appearance was at the final presentation of the "This Life" review at DON'T TELL MAMA. At that event, Wayman Wong took a photo of Portia along with the cast of the show, Tom Andersen, Paul Katz, Terri Klausner and Deborah Tranelli.

As Wayman Wong wrote of the revue, in an item he posted last night on the website:

"Simply the announcement of her name brought applause from the audience. I know they had hoped that she would attend, but Portia had been in failing health for awhile. Even when director John Znidarsic was putting up the show with his cast last October, they knew they were racing against the clock. Everyone wanted her to see it before time ran out, and like a Hollywood ending, Portia, as frail as she was, rallied enough strength to make it to the very last show, which was jammed with well-wishers. Portia was so beloved in the cabaret community. Andersen said, "Not only was she amazingly talented, she was just one of the nicest people in the business."

ADDENDUM: As Portia requested, there will be no funeral services - a memorial service is being planned for some time in May - closer to Portia's birthday. Portia requested that there be no flowers, but donations should be made in her memory to The Actors' Fund of America, 729 Seventh Avenue, NY, NY 10019. Further details will be posted on the Official Portia Nelson Website.

Portia and cast of "This Life"

Portia Nelson (far left) hails the cast of "This Life." Front row, Deborah Tranelli and Terri Klausner; back row, director John Znidarsic (in cap), musical director Paul Katz and Tom Andersen.

Don't Tell Mama, October 2000


Thought you might be interested in some things I remembered (or came up with.) She was known as a "Renaissance Lady." In theater, she was in "The Golden Apple" with Kaye Ballard. And, she toured with Patti LuPone in "The Baker's Wife." Her book, "There's A Hole In My Sidewalk," was published in 1977. Her celebrated poem from that book has been published in many self-recovery books - and printed as a poster!

ASCAP & The Mabel Mercer Foundation honored her with a special evening at the Cabaret Convention a few years ago. She received the Cabaret Masters award that night.

She received the Bob Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award from Back Stage 5 years ago at The Supper Club - where she closed the show - performing for the last time singing "This Life."

Though she was not the one to make it famous, Portia is the first person to sing "In Other Words" (aka: "Fly Me To The Moon.") Kaye Ballard and Peggy Lee later recorded it and brought it into prominence.

She met Bart Howard at The Blue Angel (the original one) and they were associated for almost 50 years. In the heyday of legendary nightclubs and performers, she was embraced by the elite of cafe society and celebrities. In the moves, she appeared in "The Sound of Music," "Dr. Doolittle," "The Order" and "Trouble With Angels."

She survived 2 bouts of cancer and debilitating throat surgery. She remained fairly active until last year.

In the liner notes for "This Life" her last recording with her friends: Ann Hampton Callaway, Amanda McBroom, Jaymie Meyer, Deborah Tranelli, Margaret Whiting and Nancy LaMott, Rex Reed recalled writing about her in the Daily News: "Her magic had the reverence and excitement of a visit from royalty in a bygone era."

John Hoglund


I was so saddened to hear about Portia. She had given me her book and we had spent time together at her home when she gave me the music to" As I Remember Him." I would like to go to a service if there is one.

Jeanie Brandes

Thanks for letting everyone know about Portia's passing. What a treasure she was to everyone in the community. I met her ages ago at The Bradston Country Hotel. Although not in good health, even then, she was charming and friendly to all of us there. And was always incredibly supportive of all of us "in the business." She is, and was, an impressive role model for anyone who is in the performing arts.

Valerie Kanofsky

Portia Nelson was one of those special artists who come around once in a lifetime. As I remember her, she ''made a rainbow'' everywhere she went, and her legacy will live on in her songs and in our memories.

Wayman Wong, the N.Y. Daily News

I'm sorry to hear about Portia's passing. I recently saw "Sound of Music" and looked to see which nun she was. I hope to use her song about a hole in the sidewalk in my next show, which is about moving on -- in SO many ways. I posted the lyrics outside the office of my door at work shortly after the cabaret convention.

Karen Levine

Portia was so many things: a great singer, writer, actress and human being. I'm so honored I got to perform her incredible songs (in ''This Life'') in front of her. Her passing is a huge loss not just to cabaret but the entertainment industry.

Tom Andersen

Oh Lord, what sad news. Portia was a very special person to me. Even as her body and spirit deteriorated, she was able to find ways to encourage myself and those around her. She was one of the most "available" people in this city (let alone, cabaret).

I think my favorite memory of her was calling her one night after I had watched a broadcast of "The Sound of Music." I asked her to pardon me as I pointed out that it had never occurred to me until then what a "bitch" she was in that movie. She laughed and spoke of how she had no idea of how it was coming across (after all, she was playing a nun!) until the movie was being edited. She would get calls from people on the film saying the same thing. They all thought she was wonderful, but yes, they agreed that "bitch" was the proper adjective. All this about one of the most loved people in New York.

The time I spent with her will be most treasured. She even proposed a writing project of the two of us which I was never able to follow through on -- no one's fault but mine. I am only sorry that I was not there for her in her last few years as she was for all of us her entire life.

Matt Leahy

I knew Portia Nelson for over 25 years. I met her through Nancy Dussault while she was visiting here. Nancy has known Portia since she was 16 years old. Through the years I would see Portia often at the theatre, shows, and cabaret. I was often called upon by Portia to cat sit. She was a sweet and special lady.

When I was presenting my first "Cabaret On the Record" benefit show, I asked Portia to be one of my guests. She had a newly released CD come and she was thrilled. She asked me to come up to her apartment, as she had a song she had just written and wanted me to hear it. It was "Love Hate New York" and of course I loved it. The rest is history. She also appeared on my second "Cabaret on the Record" show and went up to WQEW to do the Stan Martin radio show with myself and Karen Mason.

Portia always kept me informed, sending me sheet music at Christmas. This past year, after a few years not getting a Christmas Card, I got one from her, which I will treasure. Portia will be missed by the world. I was especially thrilled for her when her song, "Sing a Rainbow" was performed during the inauguration of President Clinton.

How wonderful, when the Songwriters/Mac show saluted her, to see her barely be able to get into the theatre and then after the show, she was flying high. She was able to see this tribute, as well as the beautiful show done at Don't Tell Mama. I shall never forget the smile on her face!

Lady rest in peace and say hello to a lot of friends who will now be neighbors with you up there. I miss you already.

Love, Maryann Lopinto

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