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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Passing of an Obscure Harmonica Player

I was emailed a link to the obituary of a gent who made it to the ripe old age of 98. He sounds like a terrific person, and he understood the comic power of the harmonica. Here is his story:

ATLANTA: Henry Leff, 98, played harmonica
By Holly Crenshaw The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wherever Henry Leff went, his harmonica went with him -- tucked into a pocket, ready to amuse. His repertoire consisted mostly of tunes from the 1930s and '40s. But one of his favorite songs to play was "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," a nod to his days as a batboy for the Atlanta Crackers.

Mr. Leff, 98, of Atlanta died Jan. 14 at Hospice Atlanta. A graveside service was held at Greenwood Cemetery. Dressler's Jewish Funeral Care was in charge of arrangements. The Atlanta native lived independently and was still working until two weeks before his death. For years, he cared for his wife, Ida Leff, until she died of complications from Alzheimer's disease in 1996. He would take her to the Weinstein Center to join in activities, then stick around to entertain folks with a few harmonica tunes.

Mr. Leff sold advertising promotional items -- calendars, notebooks, pens, letter openers and the like -- to businesses. Some customers stayed with him for 40 years. He was an optimistic soul and a creature of habit, said his grandson Scott Butler of Marietta. Mr. Leff lived in the same house for 55 years and drove nothing but Chevrolets. He was a regular at the Colonnade restaurant and a loyal member of Congregation Shearith Israel. On Sundays, he'd go to his local pancake house and order exactly the same breakfast -- half an omelet and a cup of coffee -- week after week.

On every anniversary and every holiday, he sent greeting cards to his loved ones. And every year on their birthday, they'd pick up the phone and "all you would hear is the harmonica playing 'Happy Birthday,' " his grandson said.

Additional survivors include two daughters, Eleanor Schwartz of Louisville, Ky., and Nancy Minkoff of Atlanta; a son, Frank Leff of Atlanta; five other grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Henry, you sound like you were a true mentsh. Sorry we never met.

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