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Steve Goodman’s mother, champion of Chicago music, dies at 85

Minnette Goodman

Minnette Goodman

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Updated: December 7, 2012 3:12PM

Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Goodman died in 1984.

But his mother, Minnette Goodman, remained a champion of the local music scene for decades afterward until her death from lung cancer on Wednesday afternoon. She was 85.

Mrs. Goodman was as much a part of the folk scene as a Martin guitar. Always in tune.

She was front row center in late June at the 80th birthday party for iconic Chicago music club owner Earl Pionke at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. Just three weeks ago she took a road trip to rural Iowa to spend a weekend with folk singer Bonnie Koloc.

She went to every Jimmy Buffett concert.

I was her date two summers ago to see Buffett at Toyota Park. Mrs. Goodman was 4-foot-9 and 90 pounds. She held her own quite well in the throng of “Parrotheads.” She teared up when her son’s “City of New Orleans” was played as the walk-in song on an endless summer night.

“The music community meant a lot to her,” Koloc said. “She was still a part of something that her son had been a huge part of. Minnette was a strong, strong connection to the past. She saw the value of what all of us did.”

Mrs. Goodman bought a ticket for Koloc’s Dec. 7 concert at SPACE in Evanston.

“You could hear her voice in a noisy club with everybody talking or the Chicago Theatre,” said singer-songwriter John Prine, Steve Goodman’s best friend. “She always thanked me for remembering Stevie and at some point she would shout, ‘Go Johnny.’ She was at every show.

“It wasn’t a gig if Minnette wasn’t there.”

Koloc recalled, “They honored Steve in Washington D.C. She was there, I was there. This little lady was so interested in everything. She was always game. We got to bed at 4 in the morning. She had to go back to Chicago the next day, but she wanted to see the National Cathedral. She got up real early and took a cab to the cathedral after being out all night with these folk people.”

A few summers ago Mrs. Goodman threw out a ceremonial pitch before a Cubs-Mets game at Wrigley Field. She wore a No. 1 “Goodman” Cubs jersey that was several sizes too big.

“I had to get her in training,” her son David recalled. “I sent her to Arizona for Cubs spring training. She was a southpaw. She throws what [Chicago producer Jim] Tullio and I say is a ‘Minnette.’ It goes 57 feet, 6 inches, and bounces in on one hop.”

Minnette Erenburg was born on May 22, 1927, in Chicago. She was an only child. She married Joseph “Bud” Goodman on Aug. 29, 1946. He was a 28-year-old World War II Army Air Force pilot and postwar car salesman. Bud Goodman died of a heart attack at age 58.

Steve Goodman wrote the ballad “My Old Man” the next day and ran the song by his friend John Prine on a phone call.

Like her sons, Mrs. Goodman knew how to dance in the shadow of an inevitable curtain.

She drove her own Honda Civic until she became sick two weeks ago. She motored out from Chicago in June to the Jimmy Buffett concert in Tinley Park.

She did not tailgate.

“Buffett parked her right next to the tour bus,” her son said. “When I was in high school she drove a red ’67 Chevy hatchback with a black vinyl roof. I was never late for anything. Leadfoot Minnette.”

Last month Koloc made dinner, pie and apple tart for Mrs. Goodman and her gal pal Janie Meyer. Mrs. Goodman and Meyer were best friends who met in 1995 through singer Emmylou Harris. They traveled together to China, Italy and three times to France. “She loved wine,” Meyer said. “Her last request was for a glass of Pinot Grigio.”

Koloc added, “Minnette loved my apple tart. She kept eating it. She brought out lox and bagels. When Minnette got up in the moring and walked out, her makeup was perfect and she wore these little high heels. She had a lot of class. I sent off the rest of the apple tart to Chicago with her and she left me the bagels.”

Steve Goodman inherited his spunky and diminutive 5-foot-2 stature from his father and mother. Koloc explained, “Minnette handled Steve’s sickness with such grace and strength. He was 19 when I met him, and that’s when he got sick and almost died. You live your life and do the best you can. She had a lot of losses in her life, but she celebrated life. I know Janie is still coming to SPACE.

“And Minnette is where singers and good dogs go.”

Besides her son David, Mrs. Goodman is survived by daughter-in-law Nancy, who was Steve’s wife; grandchildren Rosanna and Sarah, and Steve and Nancy Goodman’s first grandchild. The 5-month-old is named Benjamin, Steve’s middle name.

Mrs. Goodman’s remains were donated to the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois. A memorial event will be announced.

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