© 2022 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Public Radio Host Created Space For Music And Art


A familiar voice in public radio has died. Isaiah Sheffer was the long-time host and director of the radio show Selected Shorts. Sheffer made his mark on the New York art scene through Symphony Space, a former abandoned theater which he helped turn into a thriving arts complex. Isaiah Sheffer died in Manhattan after suffering a stroke. He was 76. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In 1978, Isaiah Sheffer had a very ambitious idea. He and his friend Allan Miller wanted to put on a 12-hour classical music marathon. They just didn't have anywhere to do it. Sheffer's wife, an urban planner, convinced the owner of a boarded-up theater in their Upper West Side neighborhood to let them do it there. In the video celebrating the 30th anniversary of Symphony Space in 2008, Isaiah Sheffer talked about that very first marathon called Wall to Wall Bach.


ISAIAH SHEFFER: As the crowds from the neighborhood were pouring in and as we were all singing in the Gloria of the B Minor Mass, I was thinking we got to take over this joint somehow.

BLAIR: Today, that joint is an oasis for artists and art lovers alike. Isaiah Sheffer believed in keeping ticket prices low, especially for young people. The programming at Symphony Space is wildly eclectic. One night: theater, dance or jazz.


BLAIR: The next: professional actors reading short stories, including big names like Meryl Streep, Stephen Colbert and Alec Baldwin.

ALEC BALDWIN: (Reading) Wife, a knife of a word. That's where all its final bite did not end the wooing to my wonderment.

BLAIR: Another ambitious Isaiah Sheffer idea was to do a several hours' long evening of readings from James Joyce's "Ulysses."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) And how he kissed me under the Moorish wall. And I thought, well, as well I am as another.

BLAIR: Making literature accessible was one of Isaiah Sheffer's greatest passions.


SHEFFER: Welcome to Selected Shorts, a celebration of the short story, a program of new and classic short fiction read by some of the finest artists of the American theater.

BLAIR: Every week for more than 25 years, Isaiah Sheffer could be heard introducing Selected Shorts, a public radio show with a very loyal following. Isaiah Sheffer was known for his intellect, his humor and his enthusiasm. When news of his death spread, fans of Selected Shorts posted online tributes. One wrote: He brought comfort and inspiration to me for years. Another wrote: I've lost a friend that I never got to meet. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.