The Piano Lady Plays On

April 6, 2012

Hot Springs’ Barbara Richards used to get requests for her piano playing when she was a patient at the St. Joseph’s Mercy Cancer Center in Hot Springs.

“When they found out I was a pianist, they’d say we want to hear you play. And I’d say, ‘On what? There’s no piano around’,” she’d tell them.

Thanks to Barbara and Bob Richards, there is now. The Richards donated a 1927 Chickering piano to the Mercy Cancer Center, where it sits in the lobby near the main entrance. It’s where you can find Barbara about three times each week, playing for patients, visitors and staff.

“It’s my joy to come up about three times a week and spend about an hour and a half playing for the staff and for the patients and therapy for me,” Barbara said.

She was a concert pianist who used to play the piano at UAMS’ Rockefeller Cancer Institute in Little Rock while she underwent treatment.

“On the main floor they had a Steinway grand piano and I had been a professional pianist all my life. I went over and started playing it. Every time I went there I would play and they began calling me ‘The Piano Lady’,” she said.

But with no piano at the Mercy Cancer Center in Hot Springs, she wasn’t able to provide the same musical therapy for herself and patients when she was here. That changed when a piano student of hers decided to move to Colorado. He had a 1927 Chickering piano with all the original wood and ivory keys. And he was told the altitude differences in Colorado would adversely affect the piano.

Bob and Barbara had the idea for a donor to purchase that piano and donate it to the Mercy Cancer Center. But the more they thought about it, the more they decided they should be the donors.

“Bob and I were talking about it. Bob said, ‘Let’s be the donors and buy it and tell him we will give it to the Cancer Center and give it a good home. And we’ll be the guardians,” Barbara said.

And they did.

The Chickering piano has all the original wood, including the original bench. It also features a medallion inside exclusive to these pianos. It is a replication of the Imperial Cross of the Legion of Honour, which was presented to Frank Chickering in 1867 by Emperor Napoleon III for services to the art of music.

“We looked up the serial number and it is from 1927. It’s two years older than I am,” Barbara said. “It is in really good condition and still has all the original ivory keys. You don’t find that anymore.”

Barbara plays her favorites and takes requests from the bench. She enjoys the responses she receives when she starts tapping the ivory keys. And the acoustics of the Mercy Cancer Center have made “Chick”, as the Richards have nicknamed the piano, sound even better.

“I’m really excited it is here and others will be able to enjoy it,” she said.

St. Joseph’s Mercy is a not-for-profit, faith-based health facility with 27 medical clinics serving the health care needs of Hot Springs and its surrounding communities since 1888. It is designated as the southwest region’s only Level II Trauma Center and the region’s most preferred provider of health care services. On May 21, St. Joseph’s Mercy will become Mercy Hospital Hot Springs.

Mercy is the eighth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, more than 200 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,500 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit

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