American Music Heroes: Ruth Slenczynska

Ruth Slenczynska, a pianist worth knowing better.(Photo: Southern Illinois University)
Ruth Slenczynska, a pianist worth knowing better.(Photo: Southern Illinois University)

American pianist Ruth Slenczynska was born in California in 1925.

If you think Mama Rose in Gyspy was bad, it appears that young Ruth had the stage father from hell.

Mr. Slenczynska thought nothing of driving a three-year-old to distraction with hours of practice at the keyboard. Ruth made her concert debut at the age of six. The following year she began a series of international tours. Critics called her the greatest child prodigy since Mozart.

In this brief interview, Ruth begins by discussing her friend, violinist Ruggero Ricci, and describes both of their hovering fathers:

Ruth Slenczynska’s autobiography Forbidden Childhood was published in 1957. Musicians autobiographies tend to be self serving – they’re like long and dull press releases – but not this one. It’s sad and harrowing and redemptive. (Read this book before you sign your kid up for music lessons.)

Ruth’s fame was such that she was one of the very few ‘classical music’ artists to appear on This is Your Life - a hugely popular radio and later TV program.

The pace and the pressure caused an early burnout. Ruth left the stage as soon as she could. Eventually she joined the faculty at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and remained there until 1987.

Ruth Slenczynska eventually resumed her concert career. The record label Ivory Classics is re-issuing her recordings. The years took nothing from her gifts:

Ruth Slenczynska, an American artist who not only survived but managed to thrive. She is worth knowing better.

Next: Richard Bonelli

  • Phil Rudell, music lover

    I admire classical musicians, but pushy papas seem to be the dark side of the moon of that experience. Thanks for posting.

  • Michael Davis

    Thanks Christopher for the nice article on Ruth.  She is a wonderful pianist and a close personal friend.  One major typo in your article needs to be corrected.  Ruggiero Ricci (who is 94 and living in Palm Springs), is one of the  great violinists of all times – he is not a violist.
    Michael Rolland Davis

    • Cdean88

      Hello Mr. Davis.  My 85 year piano teacher (studied with Sergei Tarnowsky at De Paul University)  remembers being inspired by Ruth Slenczynska at the age of 6 – Ruth must have been 8.  I would very much like to purchase as a present for my teacher Forbidden Childhood.  It appears to be out of print and very expensive.  If I am going to pay too much for this book, I would prefer the value  to go to Ms. Slencynska.  Do you know if I could get a copy from her?  

      Thanks so much for your consideration.