A Tribute to Classical Pianist Byron Janis

For many years, this exceptional musical icon spoke up for the Arthritis Foundation and our mission to conquer arthritis.

By Anthony Williams | March 20, 2024

The Arthritis Foundation pays tribute, respect and appreciation to one of our greatest champions who, sadly, passed away last week. Byron Janis, world-renowned classical pianist and composer, was 95 when he died in New York City on March 14, 2024. His wife, Maria Cooper Janis, said he was alive and kicking until the very end, continuing to make music history.

“Music is Byron’s very soul, not a ticket to stardom,” Maria said. “His passion for — and love of — creating music informed every day of his life.”

Arthritis Foundation President and CEO Steven Taylor had these words: “Byron Janis had a long history of engagement with the Arthritis Foundation and the arthritis community as a whole. He also had a deep passion for our mission. We are so fortunate and grateful for Byron and Maria’s partnership with us over the years. He touched so many lives, and we send our heartfelt condolences to his wife.”

Revealing His PsA Diagnosis

In 1973, Janis developed painful psoriatic arthritis in both hands — and was worried that public disclosure might ruin his career. He kept it a secret until 1985, at a performance at the White House with First Lady Nancy Reagan. She announced his role as spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation to help raise awareness of arthritis. He commented, “I have arthritis, but it doesn’t have me.” Janis underwent several surgeries to help fix his arthritis symptoms afterward. “Arthritis has given my life a new intensity,” he said.

He told us in an Arthritis Today magazine interview in 2010: “I try conscious acceptance and say to myself, ‘I’ve got to accept this,’ and then I try to do something about it.”

“Although arthritis is not good for pianists, the piano is good for arthritis,” Janis joked back then. “Playing the piano is probably the best exercise for arthritis. Be in good cheer and go on.”

88 Keys to Success

Making his Carnegie Hall debut at age 20, Janis took a long and amazing path for a boy born in Pennsylvania to Russian and Polish immigrant parents. A child prodigy, he studied under virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz and performed for the great conductor Arturo Toscanini.

Janis became the first American artist chosen to perform in the 1960 Cultural Exchange program between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He shared more about his life in the 2009 PBS documentary, The Byron Janis Story. Janis performed six times for four sitting U.S. presidents at the White House. And he composed scores for major musical productions, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You can even watch him perform on this Ed Sullivan Show episode in 1965.

Janis last joined us at the Arthritis Foundation’s 2017 national Conference of Champions at age 89, giving us a grand performance as maestro pianist. Just one of the lasting memories we have of a great entertainer who touched the lives of so many, including those in the arthritis community.

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