Home Imperatives Margaret Davis Grimes: requiscat in pace

Margaret Davis Grimes: requiscat in pace

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Margaret Davis Grimes: requiscat in pace
Henry Grimes and Margaret Davis Grimes in happier times

The indomitable Margaret Davis Grimes [August 13th, 1940 – January 7th, 2023] died peacefully at the age of 82, in her beloved New York City.

Margaret was born in Manhattan. Details about her childhood are few. She attended Grinnell College, married young, lived in Boston, MA and Stamford, CT, and had three daughters. After living as a suburban homemaker in New Jersey, she could no longer resist the call of the city. The family moved to the upper west side of Manhattan, and the marriage ended in divorce.

A fierce activist, Margaret raised her girls essentially as a single parent in 1970s New York City. Much of that time was spent organizing and demonstrating against war, for equal rights for women and for people of color, for affordable housing, for the historic preservation of Grand Central Station, for reproductive freedoms, and for like-minded, accountable leadership at all government levels. She was an unstoppable force then, and throughout her life.

Margaret’s greatest passion was jazz music, and she channeled her considerable skills for writing and communication into creating Art Attack! an e-newsletter for and about liberation musicians in NYC, which included resources for musicians, listings of concerts and special events, and especially highlighted young, unknown musicians and the avant-garde jazz scene.

In their 2002 Best-Of Awards issue, the Village Voice named Margaret “Best Friend of Jazz”, describing her as a “hardcore fan and music advocate” with “titanic, bouffant hair and a blissed-out expression” who gifted friends and strangers with her handmade, sticker-adorned photo pins of jazz musicians. The Voice went on to describe Art Attack! as a “stellar, grassroots webzine (containing) the most comprehensive listings…”

Around that time, Margaret met Henry Grimes. Henry was a legendary free jazz bassist who had fallen upon hard times, and who had been missing from the music scene for over 30 years. The jazz community, with the help of bassist William Parker, rallied to bring Henry back to music, and back to New York. Margaret started the Grimes Times newsletter to chronicle his return, and to promote his appearances, and traveled with and supported Henry on his subsequent tours and residencies all over the world. These were the happiest and most fulfilling years of her life. Henry and Margaret were married in 2007.

In 2014, Margaret lost her youngest daughter, Susannah Ryan Reid, to uterine leiomyosarcoma, at the age of 48.

Henry developed Parkinson’s disease. In April of 2020, he was among the many lost in the first rounds of COVID-19 nursing home deaths. Margaret made it her mission to ensure that his legacy would be preserved, and worked tirelessly through her grief to gather, catalog, and archive his lifelong work. These archives are now housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center for posterity.

Almost immediately after completing the archives, Margaret started experiencing significant cognitive decline and physical incoordination. Dementia took her mind, body, and memory, but her spirit and the work she leaves behind remains indestructible.

The family is eternally grateful to MJHS Hospice, and to the staff at the New Jewish Home in Manhattan for their devoted, compassionate care.

In addition, The Jazz Foundation of America provides support and advocacy for musicians and their families, and made a profound, immeasurable difference in both Henry and Margaret’s last years, when help was needed the most. If inclined towards memorial contributions, donations to the Jazz Foundation in memory of Margaret and Henry would mean a lot.

A celebration of Margaret and Henry’s lives is being planned for later this year.

Margaret is survived by her two remaining daughters, Elisabeth Weiss and Meaddows Ryan, their partners and children, everyone who ever loved her, and a staggering, over half a century’s collection of cut-out New Yorker cartoons.

Obituary provided by Meaddows Ryan

Raul da Gama is a poet and essayist. He has published three collections of poetry, He studied at Trinity College of Music, London specialising in theory and piano, and he has a Masters in The Classics. He is an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep technical and historical understanding of music and literature.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Raul!!
    Can’t thank you enough for memorializing Margaret! She was incredible and a huge supporter of Don Pullen. I have her Don Pullen pin. Can’t thank you enough for ALL you do with your brilliant listening and writing.
    Best, Cam

  2. Thanks Cam.
    Years ago I received an email out of the blue from Margaret – a long one bemoaning the fate that had befallen Henry. I think that she had a compelling power about her. I remember that it didn’t take much before she convinced me [a nobody] to bring her and Henry to play some dates – including a festival – here in Toronto. I was both charmed… and in awe… and still in awe of her… and so glad and priviliged that I was able to enjoy her friendship.

  3. I am absolutely devastated. Margaret was my heroine. Despite falling outs and misunderstandings I often told her that I wanted to be like her when I grew up. Full of giggles and love. I am left also with beautiful memories of time we spent together when I was her down the street neighbour.

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