Mrs. Catherine Brunson Luening, age 98, born in Samson, Ala. and raised in Elba, Ala., died peacefully in her sleep Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, at her Manhattan, NY apartment.
The oldest of four sisters, Catherine was first homeschooled by her mother, Leola Johnson, during the days of the Great Depression, while her father, John Franklin Brunson Jr., was struggling to keep his local bank in business. At an early age, Catherine was introduced to music lessons when her parents traded their cow’s milk for music instruction.
In her own words: “A bargain was struck, and eight years later, I played Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ in my senior recital, valedictorian of my graduating class. I was sent to Judson College.” With her heart set on a music career, she followed her younger sister, Eugenia, to New York in 1944, eventually enrolled at the Juilliard School for a summer, and later at the Graduate School of Music at Columbia University, earning a Master’s degree in music. It was at Columbia University that she met her husband, renowned composer Otto Luening. They married in 1959.
At the time, Catherine was teaching music at Packer Collegiate; in 1963, she began her career as music teacher at the Spence School in Manhattan. At Spence, Catherine founded the instrumental music department and taught piano - from the very rudiments to advanced levels - to generations of schoolgirls of all grades.
Her husband Otto died in 1996, aged 96. Catherine continued to tirelessly promote her husband’s music and attend concerts and proceeded to teach and lead the music program at Spence until declining health forced her to retire in 2018, at age 96.
Mrs. Luening’s ashes will be interred in the Brunson family grave at the Evergreen Cemetery in Elba at a date to be determined. The funeral ceremony will be announced in the Elba Clipper.
Mrs. Luening is survived by the descendants of her three deceased sisters, Eugenia Day, Eleanor Sparks and Judith Bullock; her nephews, John Baldwin Day, Peter Fairfield Day, William David Sparks and John Owen Sparks; her niece, Eleanor Bullock McGuff; and their children and grandchildren.