Barbara Gustern, the Manhattan vocal coach who at 87 years old would teach students nearly every day in her Chelsea apartment before attending their concerts at night, had gained a clientele that included Blondie’s Debbie Harry, avant-garde heroine Diamanda Galás, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, Broadway performers, and anyone who wanted to learn how to sing.
On Thursday, Harry responded to the sentencing of Lauren Pazienza, 27, who fatally shoved Gustern and pleaded guilty to a first-degree manslaughter charge. Pazienza will be sentenced to eight years in prison followed by five years of supervision after her release under the terms of the plea.
More from Rolling Stone
Harry, who first heard about Gustern after attending a concert in the late Eighties or early Nineties by Galás, said she was “horrified and outraged by the recent sentencing outcome in the murder of my late vocal coach and friend, Barbara Gustern.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Harry remembered Gustern as “a beloved and respected resident of NYC for over 40 years. A petite 87-year-old woman with boundless enthusiasm for life, she was an inspiration to her students and a devoted member of her local church. Her contributions to the arts and her community were immeasurable.”
Harry continued her statement with fury, condemning what she felt was a too-lenient sentence for the senseless crime, “It’s incomprehensible that proper justice for her murder was not delivered. The city’s failure to administer adequate punishment — settling for a plea deal that will likely see Lauren Prienza serve less than 8 years for murder — is a disservice to Barbara and the contributions she made to this city. It falls far short of a deserving consequence and fitting penalty. Will this affect how other New Yorkers feel safer? In most cases this crime would not have been given a plea deal. Probably Murder 2 instead of Manslaughter. This is not an appropriate punishment for murder in my mind.”
Following the news of Gustern’s death, hundreds of mourners, including Harry and Hanna, gathered at the Church of the Holy Apostles to celebrate Gustern’s life. A bell rang out 87 times, and the crowd gave a standing ovation to a recording of Gustern and her husband Josef singing “Sunday’s Child.”
Best of Rolling Stone