Elizabeth Cummings Browning
Browning, Elizabeth Cummings Died May 24, 2014, of complications related to frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, leaving a gaping hole in the Twin Cities music scene and aching hearts for those who knew and loved her. She was 53. A singer-songwriter of rare talent, she performed under her maiden name, Liz Cummings, with a number of popular bands in the Twin Cities, including Liberty Street, Aisha's Wild, Kurt Jorgenson, Tumblin' Dice, and the Flamin' Ohs, and was a regular fill-in for bands that needed a singer or keyboardist who could step in on the spot. She entertained diners at Famous Dave's Uptown during happy hour for several years and was part of Straighten Up and Fly Right's music-theatre tribute to Nat King Cole, featuring Maurice Jaycox, and other productions such as the musical time capsule "Don't Say You Don't Remember." And she was especially proud of helping with vocals on Jan Stroup's fine CD, Lonna with the Radio On. The sixth of 10 children, Liz was born in Melrose Park, Ill., and got her start in music at the age of 4 when she fell in love with the piano. She moved to Missouri at age 12 and graduated from Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis. She was proud to say that her school was 60 percent black at the time. Liz graduated from Rockhurst College (now University) with a degree in psychology and philosophy. But music remained her calling. She crafted her voice to an extraordinary instrument between the styles of Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker, yet could wrap it around nearly any style of music. She was particularly happy singing Rolling Stones tunes in the last few years of her life. She entertained old folks at senior homes for many years, stopping in to play classic pop hits from the 1940s and 1950s. And she liked to slip into the karaoke sign-ups at the VFW hall during in her weekly cribbage league games, blowing away the crooners before she got back to the serious business of cards. She loved bringing home the cribbage pig when she and her partner won, and she displayed it on her grand piano. Liz cut her first and only album, Finally!, at the age of 50, just as her brain-wasting disease began to hijack her personality. Her fondest wish was to have First Lady Michelle Obama listen to her song "Move" and decide to use it for her anti-obesity campaign. Liz was never able to breach the bulwark protecting the First Lady from the admiring public, but her family and fans like to think that if she had, the song could have been a national hit. She also was proud to include her interpretation of "Climb That Rope," a gospel tune by her friend Faye Fisher Ward. While Liz found her voice in music, she found her purpose in being a mom to her two children, Nathan and Elsa, of Falcon Heights. She challenged the state and the Roseville School District when she believed they weren't meeting their legal obligations to provide an appropriate education for Nathan, and she won. She kept Elsa in piano lessons through tight finances, read aloud to her into her early teens, and raved about her academic performance to all who would listen. Liz worked part-time at North Second Street Steel in Minneapolis for nearly 10 years until June 2012, when her illness made her unable to perform. The last two years of her life were marked by a series of losses. She lost her job and alienated many friends and fellow musicians before anyone knew that a disease was twisting her personality into anger and bitterness. As the disease progressed she lost her happy hour gig, her driver's license, and her beloved bands. Liz said goodbye to Elsa as she moved off to college, and she often said how much she loved her. In the last year of her life, Liz suddenly returned to her sweet, pleasant essence despite the pain and many indignities thrust upon her by her illness. She played piano almost until the very end, even as her mastery of daily activities slipped away. She died just two days after she was unable play one of her favorite songs. Liz was preceded in death by her parents, John ("Jack") and Mary Elizabeth ("Betty") Cummings of Monroe, La. She is survived by her husband of 23 years, Dan Browning; their children, Nathan and Elsa; brothers John (Evelyn) Cummings, of Memphis, Tenn., Joe (Kay) Cummings, of Arlington, Va., and Chris (Nelia) Cummings, of Ballwin, Mo.; sisters Mary Cummings, of Maryland Heights, Mo., Cathy (Kevin) Lanahan, of Jefferson City, Mo., Margaret (Steve Kleitz) Cummings, of Roseville, Minn., Joanne Cummings, of Monroe, La., Irene Cummings, of Murray, Ky., and Dorothy (Cormac Flynn) Cummings, of New York, N.Y.; many nieces and nephews; and countless fans. Mass of Christian Burial at CORPUS CHRISTI CATHOLIC CHURCH, 2131 N. Fairview Ave., Roseville on Thursday, May 29 at 10 AM. Visitation at the church from 9-10AM. Interment Roselawn Cemetery followed by a memorial gathering back at the church. Memorials preferred to The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, theaftd.org, or your favorite charity. Those who cannot attend are invited to remember Liz whenever they hear her signature song, Aretha Franklin's "Respect," or one of her latter-day favorites, Duke Ellington and Bob Russell's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." The girl did have a mischievous sense of humor.
Published on May 26, 2014
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