Her late husband’s company, Fred Rogers Productions, announced the news on Thursday. “Fred Rogers Productions is deeply saddened by the passing of Joanne Rogers,” the statement read. “The loving partner of Fred Rogers for more than 50 years, she continued their shared commitment to supporting children and families after his death as chair of the board of Fred Rogers Productions.”
Joanne and Fred Rogers were married for 50 years, until Fred Rogers died in 2003 of stomach cancer at age 74. Following his death, Joanne Rogers became the primary stewards of her late husband’s legacy, including making a cameo in the 2019 film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which starred Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers.
In her early career, Joanne Rogers traveled across the country as a classically trained concert pianist and performed as a duo with pianist and friend Jeannine Morrison. Though she quit performing in part due to her arthritis, she still enjoyed attending performances by her friends Emmanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma.
“Joanne was a brilliant and accomplished musician, a wonderful advocate for the arts, and a dear friend to everyone in our organization,” the statement continued. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to Joanne’s family and the thousands of people who had the privilege of knowing and loving her.”
Born Sara Joanne Byrd in Jacksonville, Fla., she learned to play the piano at age five, when a friend introduced her to a piano instructor. She earned a scholarship to attend Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where she met Fred Rogers, a graduate of Dartmouth College.
Joanne and Fred bonded over their love of music, according to Joanne’s TEDxPittsburghWomen interview from 2019. “Fred was a really really fine musician. It was part of him. It was maybe the most important part of him, was his music,” she said at the time. “Music meant a lot to both of us, we had that in common and we talked often of ‘How do people live without music?’”
Joanne Rogers also appeared in Morgan Neville’s 2018 documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which looks at the legacy of her husband’s career.
She is survived by two sons, James Byrd and John.