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Nancy's Story

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Nancy Hildegarde Rulli of Rockport, formerly Nancy Pratt of Sea Girt, N.J. and of Manhattan, died on September 13, 2016.
Nancy is best known as a female professional trumpet player, one of the first women to take on that role. At the age of 88 she was still playing under the name Nancy Hildegarde at the Chianti Cafe in Beverly.
She was loved by thousands of jazz fans in N.Y., N.J., and MA areas for her upbeat banter, for audience participation, and for her old time jazz pieces which featured her trumpet and her singing.
In the late 1900s, she led various bands in N.J. that regularly played local N.J. venues such as The Stadium in Sea Girt and the Old Mill Inn in Spring Lake.
Nancy was born Nancy Hildegarde Brown in Quincy Illinois in 1927. The daughter of a baptist minister, she learned to play the trumpet to help the older, deaf ladies in her father's church hear something (anything!) during the service.
At the age of 16, she went on tour with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated all women jazz band; negative reaction to a white girl playing in a mostly all-black band forced her, in some parts of the country, to camouflage her skin color.
Arriving in the big city of New York, Nancy studied under William Vacchiano, the lead trumpet of the New York Philharmonic and eventually attended the Juilliard School of Music. Her beauty allowed her to model. She even starred for a short time in an early local TV shopping show called "Stop and Shop with Nancy Brown."
At a young age, Nancy had developed difficulty with the blood circulation in her legs. Told that only amputation could save her life, she eventually consulted Dr. Gerald H Pratt, a renowned cardiovascular surgeon in New York City, who would save her life and her legs; over time, operating on them nine times.
The extensive surgeries ended her show biz career, but led to a fascination with medicine. Nancy finished her college (started at Antioch College) at Columbia College, and was one of the first women to attend Hahnemann Medical School. She did not complete her medical degree as she married Dr. Pratt in 1955 and became his full-time medical assistant.
By the 1970s, she had returned full time to her first love of the trumpet, playing in Manhattan and along the shore in N.J. After Dr. Pratt died, she married Anthony Rulli, a saxophone player himself and a top salesmen for Selmer Band Instruments. The two settled in Rockport where Nancy continued to play at venues like Captain Carlos in Gloucester until cancer stopped her at the age of 88.
Nancy is survived by her two sons, Dennis Pratt and his wife, Carol of Westwood, and James Pratt and his wife, Nikoleta of Canton; by four grandchildren, James Pratt Jr, Vivian Pratt, Barrett Pratt, and Dejvid Shala, by Tony Rulli’s family, led by Ross Rulli (of Rockport) and Carolyn, David, Antoinette, and Tom, and by Dr. Gerald’s Pratt family, led by Gerald Pratt Jr of Greensboro, N.C.
For guestbook, see www.dockrayandthomasfuneralhome.com.
Gloucester Times
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