A Mother’s Story: Phoebe Snow, RIP

By Dave Andrusko

It would be unfair and inaccurate to say that obituaries for the charismatic Phoebe Snow ignored the role that her daughter played in the singer’s life. The profile of Snow, who died April 26, found in the Kansas City Star gives the reader a real sense of the love she showered on Valerie Rose, who was born with severe brain damage in 1975.

But you would have to put them all together, and supplement them with a 1983 interview with the New York Times and a piece that ran on CBS’s Sunday Morning to appreciate Snow’s loyalty and abiding love for her daughter.

By the time Snow (born Phoebe Ann Laub) was 26 she had two gold records. The Rolling Stone pronounced her voice “ a natural wonder” and put Snow on its cover.

She was at the peak of her early success, riding high on the wave of critical acclaim that began with Snow’s first album “Poetry Man,” when she gave birth to Valerie Rose in December 1975. She did not learn for a couple of days that her daughter had suffered massive brain injuries.

Interviewed for Sunday Morning, Snow talked of the “advice” she received. “Don’t take her home,” she won’t make it until age one; “she will never function at any high level”; and she “won’t recognize you.” Doctors told her to “put your daughter in an institution.”

Snow’s response? “Out of the question. I would never do that. All I know is the moment I saw my daughter I fell in love with her.” The girl who was supposed to live less than a year lived for more than three decades, and together, mother and daughter learned to communicate in their own way.

Inexperienced and young—and a single mother after her husband divorced her—Snow made a series of bad business decisions. Her career never regained the level of fame she’d attained at 24 years old.

But if you ever have a chance to listen to Snow perform on Youtube, you will hear a voice that ranged over more than four octaves and was at home in almost any music genre. Snow, who died at 60, was one of the great talents of her era.

We learn that at every performance, Snow would pause and tell the story that “defined her life more than any song,” as Sunday Morning put it. We heard her say, “Tonight, and every night for the rest of my life, I will dedicate every show to my daughter Valerie Rose.“

Sunday Morning’s Randall Pinkston asked her how it felt to reference her daughter at every performance. Snow replied, “It varies. If I get a full-sense memory of her, it’s almost impossible, and my throat starts to close up. And then other nights I feel it’s my strongest connection to her and it’s my way of sharing her with everybody.”

Mother’s Day is ten days away. It’d be difficult to find a better expression of what it means to be a mother than this from the Kansas City Star obituary.

“Snow never regretted her decision to put aside music so she could focus on Valerie’s care. She was devastated when her daughter, who was not expected to live beyond her toddler years, died in 2007 at 31.

“’She was my universe,’ she told the website PopEntertainment.com that year. ‘She was the nucleus of everything. I used to wonder, am I missing something? No. I had such a sublime, transcendent experience with my child. She had fulfilled every profound love and intimacy and desire I could have ever dreamed of.’”

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