Judy West: a life of dedication

Volume 123, No. 3March, 2023

Joel Smirnoff

Judy West (1923-2023), the former Director of Communications at Local 802

Judy West, for many years Director of Communications at Local 802, passed away on January 27th, 2023 at age 99 in her home in Manhattan. Judy was a much-loved member and administrator of Local 802 for many years, an administrator whose door was always open to all. During her tenure, working alongside former President John Glasel, Judy proudly helped initiate many important social programs that enabled union members and their families to achieve the economic stability that artists enjoy so rarely in society.

Judy West (born Judith Freeman) was born in New York City on April 30th, 1923. At the age of 8, Judy’s musical talents having become evident, she appeared on Broadway in the original production of “Showboat”, starring Paul Robeson, in the character of “Kim.” By the age of 16, under the stage name “Judy Marshall,” Judy was traveling with and appearing throughout the United States as jazz solo vocalist with the band of famed jazz trombonist, Jack Teagarden. She was soon appearing with frequency on New York radio, eventually sharing her own radio show with singer Lanny Ross on the show entitled “Lanny and Judy.”

In 1945, Judy married prominent New York musician Zelly Smirnoff, a classical violinist who was also concertmaster of the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra on the Perry Como TV Show on NBC. Judy gave birth to two sons. Upon Mr. Smirnoff’s sudden death in 1955, Judy decided to enter the world of New York advertising, working as Media Director for two major advertising agencies: Sudler and Hennessey, followed by Wyse Advertising.

After briefly heading the mail order division of McCall’s magazine, Judy decided to open her own bookstore on Broadway, “Seize the Time,” named after the book by Bobby Seale. “Seize the Time Books’” purpose was, specifically, to furnish Manhattan’s Upper West Community with an outlet featuring books relevant to the pressing issues of the time, while employing workers of diversity who were, themselves, close to those issues.

In 1982, former Local 802 President John Glasel utilized Judy’s talents as Communications Director for his first Presidential campaign. Upon assuming the Union’s presidency, John appointed Judy Head of Public Relations. Local 802, and her important position there, was the perfect outlet for her passionate and lifelong advocacy for the worker in society and for her love of music, of jazz, in particular. As Communications Director, Judy fought tirelessly for an enhanced quality of life and a renewed respect for all musicians of Local 802, whether they be Broadway Musical Theatre musicians, jazz players or members of the New York Philharmonic. Judy believed strongly that all musicians were entitled to the treatment and compensation cognizant of their important and vital role in society as artists. Judy took a special pride in having successfully connected Local 802 with New York’s other labor unions, fomenting concerted action as appropriate on issues of common interest.

Judy retired from Local 802 in 2000, but continued to devote her time and fabled energy to the political issues, local and national, about which she felt strongly. Through her last days, Judy continued to work on behalf of New York tenants, serving on the board of Tenants PAC.

Judy West dedicated her life to the dual principles of social justice and a deep respect for the worker within society, for whom she fought fearlessly all her life. To the very end, Judy remained completely engaged with the world around her, never wavering from her firm belief: that, no matter how long it might take, justice and the good would eventually prevail.

A memorial is planned for Judy West on April 30th, 2023, on what would have been her 100th birthday. Judy is survived by her two sons, Paul and Joel Smirnoff, her two grandchildren, Adam Smirnoff and Sarah Smirnoff and her great grandchildren, Sadie and Simone.

This obituary contributed by Judy’s son Joel, who serves on the violin faculty of Juilliard and is a former member of the Juilliard String Quartet and a former member of Local 802. Also see this tribute to Judy by former Allegro editor Tim Ledwith.

Judy West with pianist Lee Musiker

Judy West with her grandson Adam Smirnoff (who plays guitar in the band Lettuce)

Judy West with her son Paul