In 1982, two elderly musicians would each suffer a stroke and become disabled on one side of their body. Without the use of both hands, the two women suddenly found themselves unable to make music. That is, until the day they finally met each other.
Margaret Patrick was a child in Harlem during the First World War. At the age of eight, she started playing the piano by fingering an imaginary keyboard on her mother’s sewing machine. Eventually, her father scraped together the money for a real piano. Margaret never looked back since. For the next 50 years, she taught piano to children and conducted the choir at her local church. Music was her life, until a fateful day in 1982, when a massive stroke disabled her right side, including her hand.
Like Margaret, Ruth Eisenberg had also tickled the ivory for most of her adult life. In 1923, Ruth got married in New Jersey to a pianist and teacher. Her new husband wanted to try out some of his teaching methods on Ruth, but she hated to practice the piano. So, he made her a deal: if she agreed to practice regularly, he would do all the housework. Needless to say, Ruth became quite an accomplished player! Later in life, she performed regularly, giving concerts to senior citizens. All of that came to an end, also in 1982, when a stroke left her disabled on her left side.
While recovering at the Southeast Senior Center for Independent Living, Ruth sat at the piano one day, feeling depressed. She recalls, “I was doodling at the piano, feeling sorry for myself, wishing I was dead.” That was when a therapist introduced her to Margaret, who also was attending therapy sessions at the center. They immediately hit it off, and the sound of Chopin’s Minute Waltz soon filled the room. Ruth played the melody with her right hand, and Margaret played the bass with her left. As Ruth remembers “We both experienced euphoria.”
Margaret and Ruth then began playing together regularly, performing for other senior citizens. After a reporter from the New York Times ran a story on them, they became famous overnight. Since Margaret was black and Ruth was white, they were nicknamed Ebony and Ivory, after the 1982 hit song by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. The great-grandmothers then performed on national television. They were also featured in many TV programs and magazine articles. But best of all, they were playing music again.
After their strokes, the music stopped for Margaret and Ruth. Both women had to learn to walk and speak again. And with only one good hand each, playing the piano seemed completely out of the question. But as Margaret explains, “When one door is closed to you, God opens another door. He gave me Ruth.”