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Story highlights

Jane Little was 87

She joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at 16

She broke the world record for the longest professional tenure with a single orchestra in February

CNN —  

Jane Little, a bassist who held the Guinness World Record for the longest professional tenure with a single orchestra, died Sunday night after collapsing on stage during a performance earlier that afternoon.

She was 87 years old.

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Little joined the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at 16 years old after studying bass in high school for two years, the group said in a statement.

She was a charter member of the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra in 1945, playing under all four of the ASO’s music directors.

Jane Little, a founding member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, died Sunday, May 15. She was 87 years old.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Jane Little, a founding member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, died Sunday, May 15. She was 87 years old.

“We can truly say that Jane Little was fortunate to do what she loved until the very end of her storied life and career,” the ASO said in a statement.

“The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was truly blessed to have Jane as part of our family for the past 71 years and we all miss her passion, vitality, spirit and incredible talent.”

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’A hard life’

Little said in a February interview with WABE radio in Atlanta that she decided to pick up the bass on a trip to the music store with her father.

“There it is in the window – I’m playing this bass,” Little said she told her father.

“I can’t believe you’re playing that big thing,” he responded.

Life in the orchestra wasn’t always easy. Little said the first time she was paid to play, she made $35 every other week.

“It’s a hard life, but if you work hard enough and love it enough you’ll do it,” she said.

Tributes

The ASO said on Facebook it would dedicate its weekend performances to Little.

A handful of others posted tributes on the ASO Facebook page.

One commenter said she was at that final concert, which she called “harrowing,” but that Little died “doing what she loved, especially during the last of the song, There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

The tenure record

Little achieved the tenure record in February despite being in poor health, the orchestra said.

“It truly is unbelievable and fitting that she spent her last day at her home on the stage at Symphony Hall,” Tammy Hawk, a spokeswoman for the orchestra, told CNN.

The Atlanta native performed under guest conductors including Igor Stravinsky and Sir John Barbirolli, while also touring with with American Ballet Theatre and Boris Goldovsky Opera Theatre.

She was married to the orchestra’s principal flautist, Warren Little, for 41 years before he passed away.