Ypsilanti native Sarah Klein remembered as celebrated burlesque performer, gifted journalist
Sarah Klein, 36, became a celebrated burlesque performer after moving to the West Coast, but her family and friends who remain in the Ypsilanti area remember her as a creative spirit who had a notable career as a local journalist.
Courtesy photo from the Klein family
“She was just an amazingly creative live energetic wire,” said George Klein, Sarah’s father. "She had a real desire to explore and she crossed all sorts of boundaries. She just had this kind of eager fascination for everything This was really a sudden and unexpected tragedy.”
Sarah, of San Mateo, Calif., died early Sunday in an accident in San Francisco. Nine other people were injured in the crash and her husband, 43-year-old Raul Padilla was critically injured.
George said Padilla remains in intensive care at the Stanford Medical Center.
Sarah was born and raised in Ypsilanti and attended Chapelle Elementary and graduated from Ypsilanti High School in 1994.
Aimee Conat attended high school with Sarah and vividly remembers her lively spirit.
“Seeing how she lived and loved and experienced life dared me to live my own life a little more authentically,” Conat said. “She embodied living life to the fullest and not having any regrets. In high school she played Yente in "Fiddler on the Roof" and was perfection. She also played Frau Schmidt in "The Sound of Music" the following year and again, (and also) was amazing. Her personality was bigger than any I've ever seen.”
George said those performances propelled her interest in the arts.
“I remember that clearly as she broke through her shell,” George said. “It really kind of fired up her imagination to perform. She had a lot of creative drive and imagination. She was really unstoppable.”
Sarah eventually went on to land a job at the Detroit Metro Times in Detroit, where she quickly rose through the ranks and thrived as a journalist. Sarah was the “Loose Lips” gossip columnist and culture editor for the Times.
“That was her first major job as a journalist,” George said. “And it sort of coincided with a lot of her interest in performing and entertainment and the arts. Her career at the Metro Times was pretty notable. It was one week after another where she had some big story to cover. She had a lot of bylines and she was an extraordinary journalist.”
While at the Detroit Metro Times, Klein wrote several stories that received attention from across the Metro Detroit area. George said the former editor of the Detroit Metro Times, Walter Kim Heron, reached out to him offering his condolences and remembering her as “a live wire and a live spirit.”
George said his daughter wrote about people who expressed themselves in ways seen as eccentric to the general public. George said she wrote about those individuals in a way that would make sense to the larger general community.
“She had a big imagination herself,” George said. “Kim Heron’s statement is right on the money about that She was always a good writer.”
Both of Sarah’s parents have extensive backgrounds in the writing community. George works at WEMU as a host of The Groove Yard.
“She was a wonderful writer,” said Julie Thompson Klein, Sarah’s mother. “The poor kid was cursed with having two parents with Ph.D.’s in English. I suppose there’s no way she couldn’t wind up being a writer in some way.”
Linda Yohn, music director for WEMU, fondly remembers when Sarah worked at the station.
“She brought all sorts of light and joy and unexpected pleasure and surprise and intelligence to our collective lives,” Yohn said. “She was part of the WEMU family from birth.”
In addition to writing, Yohn said Sarah had a special ear for exceptional music.
“She grew up listening to intelligent music, jazz from her father and classical music from her mother,” Yohn said. “ She couldn’t help but have great musical appreciation by being brought up by two very gifted educators. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle and nothing she couldn’t take on.”
Yohn said Sarah was on the air many times as a guest and electrified the airwaves.
“She was just a natural on the air,” Yohn said. “She was so gifted and creative. She came up with segues into music that I never would have thought of. Sarah was just naturally beautiful. Yes, she was a gifted burlesque performer and a beautiful woman, but she didn’t flaunt it. Her personality wasn’t shallow. She was very real and down to earth. She was extremely honest.”
Yohn said she will remember her as “one of Ypsilanti’s finest.”
“She just took advantage of all the educational opportunities offered in Ypsilanti and Detroit and educated herself,” Yohn said. “It’s a true testament to the intelligence and the spark of her parents. The artistic community, music theatre, and writers, all of us will remember Sarah Klein with a great deal of pride, respect and affection.”
George said Sarah wrote for several years in the area before deciding to move west, where she worked at an alternative newspaper in the Bay Area and for various Silicon Valley startups.
George said eventually she began performing with the burlesque troupe. Klein’s stage name was the Sparkly Devil and she was part of the Hubba Hubba Revue. Klein has lived in California for the past seven years.
“She was tremendously and highly regarded in that world,” George said. “That was certainly a big part of her life, but I think that the creativity and journalistic side is just as important as the burlesque side She packed a lot of life into her 36 years.”
Julie said the burlesque community was a large part of her daughter’s life and she wants them to be part of the process in making the hard decisions right now.
“She loved them and they loved her,” Julie said. “She had an extraordinary compassion for friendship.”
Paul Keller, the lead of the Paul Keller Orchestra, is close friends with George, who he met through the local music scene. Keller said he had limited encounters with Sarah, but immediately was able to see the spirit that captivated so many others.
“She was a beautiful person,” Keller said. “She was very vivacious and she certainly marched to the beat of her own drum. She packed a lot of living into 36 years.”
Funeral arrangements are still pending, George said, but he expects an announcement to be made soon. Sarah, who had no children, was the only child of George and Julie Klein.