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This decades-long musical friendship is a different kind of Valentine's Day story

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Richland, a city in southeastern Washington, there is a musical duo that's well-known for performing at weddings, clubs and musical revues. Its members are in their late 70s and early 80s, and they have been playing together for nearly 30 years. On this Valentine's Day, Northwest News Network's Anna King has their story - a tribute to a partnership of a different kind.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC)

ANNA KING, BYLINE: The second Saturday of each month at the Emerald of Siam, a restaurant in Richland, you'll hear 82-year-old Mary Lou Gnoza...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY FUNNY VALENTINE")

MARY LOU GNOZA: (Singing) My funny Valentine.

KING: ...And her piano man, Stevie Haberman. He's 78. Mary Lou has short, brick-red hair and wears red lipstick. Rhinestones sparkle on her cane and nails. Stevie's got less flash in a basic, collared shirt and pants. When he's playing, he wears a serious expression, absorbed in the music. But between songs, he's quick to crack jokes.

GNOZA: He makes me laugh. And sometimes it's really hard to sing when you're laughing (laughter). But I enjoy it very much.

KING: Mary Lou and Stevie were set up in 1996 by a fellow musician for an internet cafe gig. Mary Lou, a seamstress with an eye for smart attire, initially wasn't impressed with Stevie. It was winter, and he walked in wearing a huge, unfashionable parka and hunting cap with ear flaps. But she decided to sing with him anyway.

GNOZA: He said, what do you want to do? And I said, "More Than You Know" in F.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORE THAN YOU KNOW")

GNOZA: (Singing) More than you know, more than you know.

It went from - somebody's playing the piano - to - oh, my God, listen to that man play. And it was like he was breathing at the same time I was. It's like we'd been working together for years.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC)

KING: After that, they became inseparable on stage, playing at the Emerald but also multiple nights a week at local bars, venues and private events. They've slowed down a bit as they've aged, but they still play together at least once a month.

STEVE HABERMAN: Partnership - you know, I'm married to the beautiful Deborah. So Deborah is my wife. Mary Lou is my second wife. She's my mistress.

GNOZA: Oh, stop.

HABERMAN: Mistress of music, OK.

KING: And they've been through some tough times together, like when Mary Lou lost her adult son, Tom, almost 10 years ago. At the funeral...

GNOZA: Steve just played. It just felt so good. It was so comforting. Here we're going on as normal.

KING: Over the years, they've also had to deal with some health issues. Mary Lou broke a bone in her leg, and Stevie has Parkinson's. These mobility problems mean they have to find friends to drive them to the gigs. But despite these challenges, after about 27 years of playing together, they can still rip on stage. For NPR News, I'm Anna King in Richland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY FUNNY VALENTINE")

GNOZA: (Singing) Each day is Valentine's Day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anna King/Northwest News Network