Remembering Saralee

This is Saralee Halprin at 91. My mother, Lyra Halprin, recorded this video on her phone in February 2014. On June 21, 2014,  I walked down the aisle to this same recording. I can’t express how much it meant to me to know that my grandmother’s hands played such a vital part of our special day.

To say she was a force of nature doesn’t quite cut it. Saralee was born in 1922 in Cleveland, one of ten children. I could repeat what I know of her childhood, growing up in a house with two (or was it one?) bathrooms, always playing, endlessly performing on the piano. But the stories I know best are the ones of my own childhood, the warm afternoons my brother Josh and cousin Jeff would spend lying on the white shag rug underneath her Steinway, watching the hammers pound as she played Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, Brahms, Schubert–all her old friends. I remember her thrift store escapades, and her insane knack for finding treasures in Santa Monica alleys, and her dog Mia, who she used to make dance at the kitchen table for chicken, and her cat Suzuki, and all of the subsequent dogs and cats. I remember that whenever we went out walking she would grab me very hard by the hand, and I was always amazed by the strength in those fingers–piano hands. I remember the rhythm and pace of the way she talked; how it seemed that the serious and the absurd were so often one and the same. I remember the year I spent in college trying to sneak her into almost everything I wrote, and how when she’d appear, my teacher would always write in the margins, “Who is this character? I like her.” It was hard not to.

Julia, Saralee, and Lyra, July 2014
Julia, Saralee, and Lyra, July 2014
Saralee and Julia at the piano.
Saralee and Julia at the piano.

These are excerpts of the Saralee I knew. But if I learned anything from her, it is that our lives are multidimensional, multifaceted adventures to be shared with the ones we love. Many people loved her and still do.

Which brings me to the purpose of this website. Saralee made friends around the world; she knew and performed with countless talented musicians; she had many siblings, nephews and nieces. She volunteered with a number of progressive groups, including KCRW, Santa Monica’s classical radio station; the Santa Monica Library Book Store; Hosteling International in Santa Monica; and Santa Monica Hospital. Over the years I have met many of her friends and colleagues, and I’m certain that they have their own Saralee stories, stories we’d love to share. In my last visit to her home, my husband and I found a few books of her performance photographs from the 1950s and ’60s. Together my grandmother and I thumbed through a few of them, and she startled us all by rattling off the names of performers, actors and singers with whom she collaborated early in her career. These were experiences that meant a great deal to her.

If you are reading this and you have a Saralee story you’d like to share, or an image or video you’d like to post, please email and we’ll post it on the site.

Amah, I love you and always will. You are, without doubt, a true original.

Thank you.

With love,


9 thoughts on “Remembering Saralee

  1. I had the honor of meeting you grandma at your Aunt April’s one time where she played tha piano for us. The world lost a true lady and a great musician.


  2. i had the privilege of meeting the wonderful and amazing Saralee in the early ’70s when Lyra came to UC Davis. She was very elegant. articulate and friendly and will forever remain in my heart. My heartfelt condolences.


  3. When I moved to CA in 1980 Aunt Polly and Uncle Max made sure I got to know the Konigsberg family. Saralee opened her home and her heart to me and I’ll never forget the times we spent together. Her get-togethers were the best and we always asked her to play the piano because she could sooth the savage beast as they say. Cousin Phil and I definitely are part of the family and she made sure we knew it. I loved her like she was my Aunt and her daughters are the best because they have the same qualities she did. All my love, Bev


  4. Aunt Saralee was a loving, wonderful woman. As a young, scared college student far away from Cleveland while at UCSB in the late 60s, I often came down to her house for some home cooking and a loving atmosphere. She was always happy to see me and provide me with home cooking and the comfort of a family. I will miss her.


  5. We were privileged to stay with Saralee for a few days in July, 2012. She could not have been more welcoming or friendly, and we loved the atmosphere she created in her wonderful home. We kept in touch after returning to the UK, and the image of her sitting at the piano with Josh is one that will live long in the memory. A very special person.


  6. My memories of Saralee are always of her being so happy and kind to us all. I loved all the family get togethers at her home and having that opportunity to see all the Konigsbergs together. I remember my grandparents, Sylvia and Raphael, always speaking of her so lovingly and then of course, there’s the music. 🙂 We are at the end of a family era and I’m so sad to see it go but I’m joyful at the excellent life Saralee and her siblings had. I will miss Saralee, she was wonderful.


  7. When we first opened a ballet school (Joey Harris School of Dance) on Montana Ave in Santa Monica, I remember Sara Lee bringing in April for lessons. The Halprin’s lived close by and Sara Lee was very supportive of the school. I remember that after our first recital at Barnum Hall she gave such positive feed back that I can still hear her voice. I think she was also relieved that we used Vivaldi, Glazanov, Cherubini, Brahms etc. for the for the choreographies that brought another dimension to the music for the young people. A bright light and a true teacher/musician.


  8. Thank you so very much for including me in the group that could not make the service. Listening to the stories take me back to meeting my Aunt Polly’s (her older sister) family. My mother had told me about them, and especially SaraLee, since I was a small girl. When I met her she informed me that even though I was Polly’s niece I was now a member of the Kongisbergs too. She treated me special (as she did everyone else). I loved the entire family and am so sorry I didn’t get to visit with her before she passed away. I love her daughters and am so thankful for Facebook so I can keep in touch.


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