Elaine Lorillard, a socialite who with her husband, Louis, lured jazz greats to their hometown in Rhode Island for a two-day concert series in the summer of 1954, starting the Newport Jazz Festival and creating the model for what became a worldwide circuit of outdoor jazz festivals, died on Monday near her home in Newport. She was 93.
Her daughter, Didi Cowley, confirmed the death.
It was a casual remark during intermission at a classical concert in Newport in 1953 that inspired the Lorillards to sponsor the first Newport Jazz Festival. Mrs. Lorillard, already a jazz fan, was seated next to John Maxon, then head of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.
“It’s too bad we can’t do something like this for jazz,” he said. “That’s another music form that’s worth a big-time festival.”
The Lorillards got in touch with George Wein, then the owner of a jazz club in Boston, and asked him to produce that first festival. The Lorillards and Mr. Wein, who went on to become a renowned jazz impresario, brought together for the first concert series, among others: the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Oscar Peterson Trio, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, the George Shearing Quintet, the Erroll Garner Trio, the Gene Krupa Trio and the singers Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
About 7,000 fans packed the grounds of the Newport Casino on the nights of July 17 and 18 in 1954.
“Because it was held in Newport, it gave an aura of social distinction to jazz that it had never had before,” Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, said in an interview yesterday.
The Lorillards led the nonprofit Newport Jazz Festival foundation for six years, providing financial support of their own and from their friends.
In 1960, when the Lorillards could no longer afford to support the festival, Mr. Wein found money elsewhere and moved the concerts to Freebody Park, the local municipal stadium. (His Festival Productions Inc., now a division of the Festival Network, runs festivals around the world.)
For a time, rock music was part of the mix. That ended in 1971 when angry fans, trying to see the Allman Brothers, crashed the gates. Festival Productions moved the Newport festival to New York in 1972. A more jazz-rooted festival later returned to Newport and is still held each summer.
Elaine Guthrie was born in Tremont, Me., on Oct. 11, 1914, the daughter of Walter and Eliza Pray Guthrie. Her father owned a printing company and her mother was a professional pianist. Elaine Guthrie attended the New England Conservatory of Music. But in 1943 she went to work for the Red Cross, teaching music and painting to orphans in liberated Naples, Italy.
There she met United States Army Lt. Louis Lorillard, a descendant of Pierre Lorillard, who founded the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company in 1760. They went to “underground jazz clubs together” in Naples, their daughter, Didi, said, “and she fell in love with this fabulous music.” The Lorillards were married in 1946, but later divorced. Mr. Lorillard died in 1986.
Besides her daughter, of Newport, Mrs. Lorillard is survived by a son, Pierre, of Los Angeles, and two grandchildren.
Mr. Morgenstern of Rutgers, a friend of Mrs. Lorillard, said she never lost her love of jazz. “I saw her in clubs just a few years ago,” he said.