Friends and family of Sylma Gottlieb, 91, gathered Sunday to celebrate a Bowie woman that they say lived a life as beautiful as her voice.
“She was an individual who was always happy,” said her oldest daughter, Nancy Bort of Arlington, Va. “She spread happiness all around her.”
About 250 people attended a memorial Sunday for Gottlieb — a singer and vocal teacher — at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts auditorium, with speakers describing Gottlieb as a fixture in Bowie’s music community. Gottlieb died of pancreatic cancer Dec. 14, only a month after her November diagnosis, Bort said. The service featured emotional eulogies from family members and vocal performances by Gottlieb’s friends and former students.
Gottlieb, who began piano and voice lessons at 12, settled in Bowie in 1964 after moving around the country and overseas with her military husband, Robert Gottlieb, who died in 2008, Bort said. Shortly after moving to Bowie, she began giving voice lessons, and performed at churches and with Bowie’s Senior Chorale, a senior citizen singing group, Bort said.
She continued singing up until the end her life, said Gerald Muller, Gottlieb’s accompanist during her performances. During the memorial service, Muller said she was the “legend of Bowie” because of her work with her students and love for the city.
“It was a privilege to know her,” Muller said. “She was supportive of everyone.”
While friends and family said Gottlieb had a beautiful voice, many of the residents attending the memorial had been touched by her vocal lessons. Emily Casey of Bowie took lessons with Gottlieb for 13 years. Casey said Gottlieb was supportive during her lessons, and their work together motivated Casey to pursue her efforts as a professional vocalist. Casey said she remembered Gottlieb would attend her high school auditions and any production in which she sang.
“She was there for me every step of the way,” Casey said. “She loved everybody and really deeply cared about the community.”
Nancy Freeman said her daughter, Emily Freeman, was close with Gottlieb. Emily took lessons with the vocal teacher for about 12 years. Freeman said Gottlieb was like a grandmother who pushed and motivated Emily to do her best. It helped Emily realize her dream of performing, and she is currently playing the character of Fiona in the production of “Shrek” at the Children’s Theatre of Annapolis, Freeman said.
“She was an inspiration for Emily and was dedicated to her students,” Nancy Freeman said.
Bort said her mother was also a major influence in growing Bowie’s music scene. She co-founded the Music Teacher’s Association of Bowie in 1968 and was a founding member of the Bowie Regional Arts Vision Association, Bort said. The association eventually led to building of the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, where Gottlieb’s memorial was held, Bort said.
“She was doing something she loved,” Bort said. “She led an incredible life.”
Gottlieb is survived by three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, Bort said. She will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery along with her husband. A date for burial has not been set yet, Bort said.