Schwabacher was very active in Bay Area musical life, serving on the San Francisco Opera Association Board, as life governor of the San Francisco Symphony, as vice chairman of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and professor of music at the Fromm Institute.
A San Francisco native and graduate of UC Berkeley, Schwabacher made his San Francisco Opera debut in 1948, singing 14 roles over four seasons. His more than three-decade career included performances as a recitalist, oratorio singer, in major music festivals and with the major symphony orchestras throughout the U.S. and Europe.
In 1957, Schwabacher and San Francisco Opera's then-general director, Kurt Herbert Adler, co-founded the Merola Opera Program, now one of the most prestigious young artist training programs in the country. He became president of the organization in 1965, as well as its artistic administrator. Merola alumni who had Schwabacher as a mentor include Ruth Ann Swenson, Deborah Voigt, Dolora Zajick, Carol Vaness, Thomas Hampson and Patrick Summers. In 1983, he founded the San Francisco Opera Center's Schwabacher Debut Recital Series as another means to provide performance opportunities for young emerging singers.
David Hugle, Merola Opera Program board president, said, "Jimmy's vision and help through the past five decades was amazing. He cultivated the next generation of great singers and established the Merola Program as one of the preeminent young artist training programs in the world. He will be profoundly missed."
"Jimmy Schwabacher was one of the foundations of San Francisco Opera," said company general director David Gockley. "Through his own performing career, his dedication to the training of singers, his championing of the art song and his unbridled spirit of generosity, he inspired generations of opera singers and opera lovers."
According to a statement from the company, he died of complications from pneumonia.