Chamber Music Northwest Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios The Old Church Portland Oregon

Legendary songwriter Dave Frishberg dies at 88

The jazz pianist and writer of such wry and well-loved songs as "My Attorney Bernie" and "I'm Hip" had lived in Portland since 1986.


A Portland legend is gone. Dave Frishberg, the jazz pianist and wryly clever songwriter of such tongue-in-cheek hits as My Attorney BernieI’m Hip, and Peel Me a Grape, died in Portland on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. He was 88. The New York Times reported that Frishberg’s wife, April Magnusson, confirmed his death.

Portland jazz legend David Frishberg. Photo:

Frishberg was born in 1933 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and grew up in the Midwest. He moved to New York in 1957 and played with blues and jazz greats ranging from Jay McShann and Pete Johnson to Ben Webster, Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims. As a songwriter he could have the wit of a Broadway or Tin Pan Alley lyricist like Hoagy Carmichael or Stephen Sondheim and the dry reserve of a jazz iconoclast like Mose Allison. For all the sophistication of his songwriting style – his songs tickled the mind at least as much as the ears – he may be best known by the broader public for writing the music and lyrics to I’m Just a Bill, a song explaining the tortured path that legislation takes through Congress, for the kids’ television show Schoolhouse Rock!

Frishberg moved to Los Angeles in 1971 to be a studio musician and write his songs, and moved north to Portland in 1986. For several years one of the deep pleasures of Portland night life was to drop into the bar at the Heathman Hotel on one of the many nights that Frishberg was playing piano and the fine jazz stylist Rebecca Kilgore was singing. Frishberg would rarely if ever sing or play his own songs at these gigs: He left the singing to Kilgore, and played the piano, and they developed an enviable musical rapport, one well worth ordering another brandy so you could stick around for another set. 

Great singers ranging from Carmen McRae to Anita O’Day, Blossom Dearie, Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, Diana Krall, and Mel Tormé loved singing his songs. The New York Times obituary is here, and in 1998 Francis Davis wrote a lengthy profile of Frishberg for The Atlantic that’s well worth reading.

Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."


2 Responses

  1. What a treasure to be able to drop in at Heathman and if there was a table to enjoy Dave and Rebecca.
    Was also able to see him in other venues – thank you for sharing your talent Mr. Frishberg and rest in peace.

Triangle Productions presents Eleanor starring Margie Boule Portland Oregon
Pacific Maritime Heritage Center Prosperity of the Sea Lincoln County Historical Society Newport Oregon Coast
Newport Performance and Visual Arts Centers Newport Oregon Coast
Chamber Music Northwest Beethoven's Complete Piano Trios The Old Church Portland Oregon
City of Hillsboro Walters Cultural Arts Center She's Speaking Live! Hillsboro Oregon
Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series Willamette University Salem Oregon
Portland State University College of Arts William Shakespeare Measure for Measure PSU Portland Oregon
Portland Chamber Orchestra Young Artist Competition University of Portland Free Event Portland Oregon
Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon
Portland Art Museum Virtual Sneakers to Cutting Edge Kicks Portland Oregon
Tilikum Chamber Orchestra Lake Oswego High School Fairy Tales and Folk Songs Lake Oswego Oregon
Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon
Portland Columbia Symphony Realm of Nature Beaverton and Gresham Oregon
Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
White Bird Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon
Northwest Dance Project Sarah Slipper Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
Corrib Theatre Contemporary Irish Theatre Portland Oregon
Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington
Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon
White Bird Dance Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Newmark Theater Portland Oregon
High Desert Museum Sensing Sasquatch Indigenous Art & Knowledge Bend Oregon
Oregon Cultural Trust donate
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.