Jazz, blues and gospel musician Evelyn Ruth Moseley Lathan, 74, known professionally as "Lady Byron," who played piano with the greats and her own ensembles for 60 years, died Nov. 1 of a stroke at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.
In 2002, she was named the official pianist for the Department of the Interior, a gig she won as the last of 15 musicians to try out for the job. The position required her to play the department's historic 1937 baby grand Steinway for events in the huge Interior auditorium or for more modest receptions for dignitaries.
It was unlikely the dignitaries intimidated her, for Lady Byron had played with those who could outshine many: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, Patti Page, Sarah Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine, Hank Jones, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Jim Martinez, Billie Holiday and many others.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams proclaimed April 19, 2003, Lady Byron Day in the District, her home for the past 44 years. Her music leaned toward the standards; she loved the songs from the 1930s, '40s and '50s and was also known for her rocking gospel rendition of "The Lord's Prayer."
"I've traveled all over the world and have worked with some of the greats," she told The Washington Post in 1991, on the job with a bassist at the Rock Creek Cafe near Dupont Circle. "But every day when I come in here and play my music, it gives me the same excitement. I love people, and one of the ways I can touch the inner soul of people is through my music."
Born in Hartford, Ky., she began playing piano and organ at age 4. In 1948, she moved to Chicago, where she met and married "Brother" Jack McDuff, a jazz organist, professor, composer, writer and arranger. She didn't read music and never had a formal music lesson, yet she began playing with Chicago musicians and others who came through on tours.
Lady Byron lived in Europe and the Caribbean and performed with Ellington and his orchestra for Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace, and in the White House for Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
She moved to the Washington area in 1960 and was a Silver Spring resident. She also worked as a private duty nurse.
Lady Byron was a member of and pianist for Greater Good Samaritan Baptist Church in Washington.
Her first marriage ended in divorce.
Survivors include her husband of 13 years, Robert L. Lathan Jr. of Silver Spring; a daughter from another relationship, Yvonne Jean Prater of Reno, Nev.; a sister, Yvonne Duncan of Washington; two half brothers, Frank Smith of Washington and Michael Goode of Raleigh, N.C.; a granddaughter; and four great-grandchildren.