An 87-year-old singing coach street died Tuesday of head injuries from being shoved to the ground on a New York City street, police said while searching for a suspect in what a top official called “an unprovoked, senseless attack.”
Barbara Maier Gustern, who had worked with performers on Broadway and beyond, hit her head and was critically injured in the attack Thursday night.
A woman crossed the street, came up behind Gustern and pushed her to the ground on West 23rd Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, according to police, who have released surveillance video of the suspect.
Chief of Detectives James Essig said the assault was “an unprovoked, senseless attack.”
“That’s horrific. An 87-year-old woman, just walking down the street, knocked to the ground,” Essig said at a news conference Tuesday, deploring the “disgusting and disgraceful offense.”
Friends told The New York Times that Gustern had just left her apartment to catch a student’s performance after hosting a rehearsal for a cabaret show in her apartment.
Gustern had been known in the theater world for decades. She worked with singers ranging from the cast members of the 2019 Broadway revival of the musical “Oklahoma!” to experimental theater artist and 2017 MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Taylor Mac, who told the Times she was “one of the great humans that I’ve encountered.”
Her late husband, Joe Gustern, was also a singer, with credits including “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.
Barbara Maier Gustern started singing professionally in high school in her native Indiana, she told the local newspaper NY Press in 2017. She moved to New York at 21, initially to study for a master’s degree in psychology, but then focused on her own singing career and, later, on coaching other vocalists.
“I’m going to teach until one day I am at the piano and my head drops down, and that’s that,” she told NY Press.