Tributes in prose and music mark passing of George Mesterhazy

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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP—A thousand fans, friends and family packed the PAC of Middle Township Sunday afternoon to listen to tributes in prose and music for an acclaimed Cape May pianist who played his final notes on earth last week.

George Mesterhazy, a Grammy nominated musician, succumbed Thursday night in his sleep at his home, just six weeks before he was to perform with his friends at the new Cape May Convention Hall on the night of Sunday, June 3 as part of the Cape May Music Festival.

That concert will still go on, and will be named in his honor with many of his friends who spoke and played here Sunday returning for tribute performances.

The two-Hour Sunday celebration of Mesterhazy’s life was filled with emotion as participants on stage told sad and happy stories. Some of the speakers paused to wipe off tears while others in the audience bowed their heads and sobbed heavily.

The message that came from the speakers was that Mesterhazy was not only a fine musician, but a fine human being.

It was the music, the trademark of the 59-year-old Mesterhazy’s life, that was most impressive, even before the celebration began. As the audience filed into their seats, they listened to the CD of “How Great Thou Art” which Mesterhazy had recorded in February of 1999 at the Merion Inn, where he frequently performed for dinner music.

When the music stopped and the house lights dimmed, the audience stood and applauded enthusiastically for several minutes.

For several years, Mesterhazy was the organist and choir director of Cape May’s Presbyterian Church, across Decatur Street from the Merion Inn. He was known to perform his jazz on Saturday nights at the restaurant and the next morning to walk across the street to offer a special verve to the music of the hymns, given his jazz background. Several members of the choir attended Sunday’s ceremony.

Representing the church on stage were the Rev. Kathy Stoner-Lasala, who was pastor then, and member Derrick McQueen, who will soon receive his doctorate as a Presbyterian minister. McQueen, also a professional singer, provided one of the highlights of the celebration, drawing a standing ovation when he dramatically sang a capella “How Great Thou Art.”

Then there were Mesterhazy’s fellow musicians, a dozen of them who came together on stage and played a rousing “sendoff” of “When The Saints Go Marching In” to the cheers of the audience.

Among the musicians listed in the program were Joe Barrett, Barry Miles, Matt Hayden, Tim Lekan, Bob Shomo, Mike Boschen, Bob Ferguson, David O’Rourke, Bob Rawlins and Michael Pedicin.

Mesterhazy, a native of Hungary, was nominated for a Grammy for his performance with jazz singer Shirley Horn for their album “Loving You.” He has been accompanist for some big names in show business, among them Bernadette Peters, Anthony Newley, Jack Jones, Bobby Rydell and Chita Rivera.

Like another pianist, Linda Gentille who will be performing this summer at the PAC with her Jersey Shore Pops Orchestra, Mesterhazy was an animal activist. In his memory, the public is asked to make contribution to the Animal Outreach of Cape May County. Also, the George Mesterhazy Foundation has been formed to foster music education, performance and preservation.

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