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Inspirer of Newport Jazz Festival dies at 93

Elaine Lorillard, who managed to start the Newport Jazz Festival, died this week of dementia at 93.

Lorillard died early Monday at the Heatherwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, said Lori Curtin, director of quality assurance.

Lorillard is best remembered for inspiring jazz club owner George Wein to create the Newport Jazz Festival, the first such gathering in the United States and the model for hundreds of similar celebrations worldwide.

While visiting Wein's club in 1953, she told him jazz might liven up the "terribly boring" social scene in the summer resort for the rich. Her husband, Louis, a tobacco heir, gave Wein a $20,000 line of credit to start the festival.

The first event in July 1954 attracted 11,000 fans to hear jazz giants including Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday.

But Lorillard, who later divorced her husband, clashed with Wein over who deserved the credit and profits from the festival, even filing a lawsuit against it in 1959. She and Wein publicly reconciled in 1992.

"I am proud of what I did, but it's brought me great unhappiness," Lorillard told The Providence Journal-Bulletin in 1997. "My husband and I put up all the money - and I never saw a penny from that festival."

Lorillard's former husband died in 1986.

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