Beloved 87-year-old NYC vocal coach dead from random attack

Barbara Maier Gustern was a friend and mentor to Debbie Harry, Kathleen Hanna and many others

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published March 18, 2022 9:41PM (EDT)

Members of the NYPD congregate in Times Square near a police precinct (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Members of the NYPD congregate in Times Square near a police precinct (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Police are currently on the hunt for the person responsible for shoving 87-year-old vocal coach Barbara Maier Gustern to the ground the evening of March 10, resulting in a brain injury that took her life.

The incident occurred outside of Gustern's apartment on Manhattan's Lower West Side when an unidentified woman came up behind Gustern and pushed her, causing her to fall and hit her head, according to CNN. The woman fled the scene, leaving Gustern where she lay until a man on a bicycle who witnessed the attack brought her into the lobby and an ambulance was called, according to The New York Times. Gustern had been rehearsing a cabaret show with friends in the apartment, and left to see a performance at Joe's Pub. 

"I've never been hit so hard in my life," Gustern reportedly told one of her friends following the attack.

Just under a week after her attack, Gustern passed away as a result of her injuries, leaving a community of friends and artistic peers mourning her loss.

"Today, at 11:15AM, we have lost one of the brightest little flames to ever grace this world," Barbara Maier Gustern's grandson AJ posted on Gustern's Facebook page. "Bobbob, I love you, you are and always will be my heart."

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As of the time of this post no arrests have been made, but NYC police have released video and images of a woman they think may be Gustern's attacker.

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"We're asking the public's help in solving this disgusting, disgraceful offense committed against a vulnerable, elderly female who was doing nothing but walking down the streets of New York City," NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said Tuesday during a news conference. "So, please -- anybody with any information on this person or her whereabouts, call 1-800-577-TIPS."

Gustern was a classically trained singer who was a vocal mentor to Debbie Harry, Kathleen Hanna, and cast members in the 2019 revival of the Broadway musical Oklahoma! 


Lauren Pazienza, a 26-year-old originally from Long Island, turned herself in to the 10th Precinct in NYC on Tuesday, (March 10) according to ABC, admitting to being the one responsible for the shove that ultimately took Gustern's life. 

A NY Post article on Pazienza that ran after she was officially charged with manslaughter details that she lived in Astoria with her fiancé at the time of the incident and was known for being a bit of a troublemaker with a temper. 

"There was always an issue with her and someone in the building," a neighbor said to NY Post. "It's like always something with that lady. I feel for her fiancé because he's a nice guy and he didn't sign up for this. I wonder what he's going to do now."

Prosecutors in her case claim that Pazienza was heard calling Gustern a bitch before pushing her to the ground. As of now, no reason for her actions that night have been given. 

Pazienza is currently detained at Riker's Island after a judge "set her bail at $500,000 cash, $1 million bond on manslaughter and assault charges," according to the NY Post coverage.

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By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere.

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