Barbara Barstow


Barbara Barstow, 93, a well-known concert violinist and symphony musician, died on April 16 at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital after a short hospitalization. She lived in Vineyard Haven.

She was born June 26, 1917, in Burlington to Herbert and Madeline Palmer Barstow.

The family later moved to Fairhaven, where she graduated from Fairhaven High School. All during her school years she commuted to Boston for private lessons with well-known teachers and symphony musicians. At 14 she was asked to join the New Bedford Symphony and prior to that she had already been a soloist and concert master for the smaller New Bedford City Orchestra.

At the New Bedford Symphony she met Shirley Adams, a cellist who was to become her lifelong friend and collaborator in all things pertaining to their pursuit of musical training, while supporting themselves on their own during the late depression and pre-WWII era. Both were determined to follow a career in music over objections from families as well as there being very few opportunities for women musicians at that time.

Barbara’s first big break came when she auditioned for Fritz Reiner of the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1942, and since it was wartime and few male violinists available, she got the job. A year later both she and Shirley got jobs with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., under Hans Kindler. After that they traveled about the country taking various jobs with regional orchestras, always adding to their musical education, teaching at various schools and universities, giving private lessons, and playing with different chamber groups to supplement their income. Due to her very early experience of being concertmaster in New Bedford, Barbara often had additional organizational duties in addition to her playing.

After the war, they made the major move to come back to New England, taking jobs with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, where Barbara became one of the first women concertmasters in the world. They bought a house in Warwick, R.I., and lived there until they retired to Martha’s Vineyard in the early 1980s. In 1951 during a summer visit to the Vineyard, where Shirley had long ties, they fell in love with and bought their home in Vineyard Haven. To finance it, for 20 summers they ran The Music Box restaurant known for its simple Island fare mixed with impromptu musical recitals.

During retirement both Barbara and Shirley worked tirelessly for many Island organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Community Solar Greenhouse, Tisbury Senior Center, all the while surrounding themselves with hobbies, wonderful pets, all in a home filled with many friends, good food, and always music.

Shirley Adams died in March 2008. Barbara is survived by a sister Judith Laffey of Mystic, Conn., and several nieces and nephews.

Contributions can be made to Meals on Wheels, P.0. Box 2337, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557, or Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, 667 Waterman Ave., East Providence, Rl 02914 to the Barbara Barstow Fund.

Burial was held privately.