At age 17 in the summer of 1979, lifelong Queens resident Renee Katz was unwittingly thrust into the national spotlight.
A talented flutist, pianist and vocalist, Katz was preparing to graduate from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan in mere days when, on June 8, 1979, in a random act of violence, she was pushed in front of an oncoming E train at the 50th Street station in Midtown. She had been on her way to school for her final exams.
Katz managed to maneuver herself to avoid being killed, but the train severed her right hand. The teenager was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center, where microsurgeons worked for 16 hours to reattach her hand. They were successful, but Katz’s musical career was disrupted.
A media frenzy ensued, Katz remembered.
“I got pushed into that limelight,” she said. “I didn’t ask for it. But I had a really good role model in my dad [a Holocaust survivor] and a really supportive family. And I’m a pretty positive person.”
Today, she’s an occupational therapist by day, cabaret singer by night, mother of a teenage son and lover of the arts. Katz has stayed productive, focused and humble. In just the last few years, the artist has published a book of poems, recorded a CD and just finished her first set of major cabaret shows — all titled “Never Been Gone.”
“[Music] is my one constant,” Katz said. “It’s my one love. And it’s never too late to return to your first love.”
A multi-modal art performance, Katz’s cabaret journey show features musical numbers, poetry readings and a slideshow with supporting photographs, quotes and thoughts. The performer just finished a set of shows at Manhattan’s Don’t Tell Mama earlier this month alongside pianist Tedd Firth, and is looking to book more.
Katz said she loves the cabaret style for its intimacy.
“It’s an intimate art form where you can actually have a connection with your audience,” Katz said. “You’re very close to people. I’m very musical, and I’m very emotional, so it just works for me.
Katz said she hopes to take her show to more venues throughout the year, including hospitals and colleges. She also plans to work on a new album.
When she was still 17, Katz said she was offered a contract by ICM to produce a movie about her life. She refused.
“I was 17. I hadn’t lived,” Katz said. “I didn’t want the movie to just be about horror.”
Through her poetry, music and performances, Katz said, she has taken creative control of her own life.
“I did it the way I wanted to do it,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with telling your story.”
Keep up with Katz’s upcoming performances and artistic career on her website.