By Lisbeth Brosnan
Judy West, 94, who has pursued issues of inequality for decades from her Upper West Side Manhattan home, describes herself as an optimistic jazz singer, avid reader — and political activist who is very sensitive to social injustices.
She said in an interview that her parents had been very progressive and raised her to be an independent, assertive woman. Judy has lived in New York all of her life. Although her husband died at the age of 42, Judy speaks proudly of her family. She has raised two sons, with grandchildren and one grandchild.
Judy’s very interesting and rewarding life prompted a decision to give her the Clara Lemlich Award in 2013. The Clara Lemlich Award, named for one of the leaders of the union organizing response to the death of 147 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in lower Manhattan in 1911, recognizes women in their 80s, 90s and 100s who have worked for the greater good for their entire lives. That defines Judy West.
Judy worked in many different positions throughout her life, including working in public relations for the musician’s union, working as a CEO at Neighborhood Development Corp. in the Bronx, partnering with the Black Panthers to open a bookstore called “Seize the Time,” and working as the Labor Coordinator for Tenants and Neighbors. Judy had wanted social activism to be a central part of her career. She explained she would have stayed working in the Musician’s Union forever if she had not grown old. She loved her job at the union and described both the work they did and her staff as extraordinary.
As a jazz singer herself, Judy West has always been fond of music. She cannot pinpoint a favorite musician, but describes all musicians as the best type of people. Her husband had also been a musician, a violinist.
One of her sons is also considered the most important fiddle teacher in the world. She considers musicians to be the nicest and smartest of all people, describing their relationship with the audience as organic. She stated that musicians are “more emotional than males are allowed to be.” Even her great granddaughter, aged 11, can sing many songs from the musical “Hamilton.”
Judy West has lived a long and exciting life, always working for the greater good of society. Her work lead to many great changes and both her passion and excitement about all of her accomplishments is clear to all who are able to speak with her.