Author’s note: Much of the information in this article came from a Valley News interview conducted in 2007. Some of the information came from numerous informal conversations that took place between the author and the deceased between 1999 and 2008.
Last Thursday, one of Temecula’s most brilliant artistic minds was murdered.
Her name was Elizabeth Kellenbarger Amirian, but those who knew her called her Bipsy.
According to police reports, she was stabbed to death in a minivan on the third floor of The Promenade mall’s parking structure by Pala resident Mickey David Beauchamp Wagstaff.
Wagstaff was Bipsy’s fiancé. The motivations for the murder are still unknown.
According to police officials, an officer witnessed the murder while patrolling the parking structure.
When the officer ordered Wagstaff out of the vehicle, he refused. So police broke in the back window of the van and used a taser to knock Wagstaff out. The police then arrested him.
Bipsy died at the scene.
“I am still so shocked,” said Janet Gorman, a concertgoer and friend since high school choir. “She only spoke about how happy she was with [Wagstaff]. She lit up when speaking of him. She spoke of him as being a wonderful man.”
Fans knew Bipsy for her graceful virtuosity on the piano, her airy, angelic voice and thoughtful lyrics.
On any given weekend, Bipsy – who got her nickname from a nanny when she was a child – could be found playing open mic nights at various coffee shops from Temecula to Escondido.
Tori Amos and Kate Price inspired her playing, she said, and it showed.
Most of her songs were somber but crystalline and graceful, like someone might hear in a dream. Her songs were in minor keys and accompanied only by her voice.
Much of her music conveyed her deep, unconventional kind of spirituality.
Bipsy was a Christian but a great admirer of Jewish culture.
This shows in her song “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, and in “Feast of Tabernacles,” which Bipsy wrote after reading the Book of Nehemiah for the first time.
She had been recording a full-length album bit by bit for more than three years. The album was to be titled “BattleCry.”
Bipsy posted a blog on Jan. 13 saying she was in the production stage of the album and would finally release it this month.
“Can you sense my excitement as i type, can you feel it!!! [sic],” she wrote.
She wrote and produced the album herself, she said during conversations last year, and planned to sell it at her live performances.
In an interview in July 2007, she said the years during which she wrote the album – 2005 to 2007 – were the most difficult of her life.
Plans for a tour, which she had put together herself, had fallen apart. For most of that time she had worked two jobs. And during that period, her marriage had ended in a divorce.
Writing music helped her get through it, she said, and it was the only constant in her chaotic life.
Bipsy grew up in the back of an art studio. Her father, Acop “Jack” Amirian, ran a framing business in North Carolina in addition to selling his paintings of Civil War scenes.
“That had a huge impact on my life,” Bipsy said in 2007.
The family’s home was attached to Acop’s art studio, so Bipsy was constantly surrounded in her father’s work.
“I grew up around art. I loved watching my father paint his battle scenes,” she said. “When I couldn’t sleep at night, I would come and watch him paint, because he’d paint all night.”
Despite living in an environment alive with creativity, Bipsy’s home life was repressive and stifled.
She blamed her father for this, saying he was abusive and controlling.
“[The Amirian children] didn’t really have a normal life,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to really do anything outside of home. We couldn’t do anything extracurricular; we weren’t allowed to have friends outside of school. We couldn’t go to people’s houses or anything like that… My mom couldn’t leave the house, talk on the phone, have any friends or get her driver’s license.”
This “isolated existence” is part of the reason Bipsy got so good at playing the piano, she said.
“I didn’t have the normal diversions of childhood,” she said.
For some reason, playing the piano came naturally to Bipsy. In 2007, she talked about the first time she ever touched a piano.
“I went with my dad to a Radio Shack and there was a keyboard. I started playing and a big crowd gathered around me because I was playing songs I had heard on the radio,” she recalled.
After that day, she was in love with the idea of playing the piano. She begged her father for piano lessons, but he refused.
“It wasn’t because we couldn’t afford it,” Bipsy said. “I think it was just because of his whole mentality that children weren’t meant to be heard and women shouldn’t be out in public.”
Then Bipsy remembered her mother had an old broken keyboard tucked away in a dusty corner of their home. So she got it out and, trying to repair it, gave herself an electrical shock.
“That’s how desperate I was [to play it],” she said.
Bipsy spent her life perfecting her already prodigious piano playing skill so she might do justice to the God to which she dedicated her life.
“If only i had the talent to fully give Him the praise He is due,” Bipsy wrote in a blog on her MySpace page. “At least i will have eternity to play and sing more skillfully when he returns [sic].”
Her music is still online at www.myspace.com/beatnikbipsy.
In addition, several videos of her performances are available on Youtube.com by typing “Bipsy” in the search bar.
A memorial service for Bipsy will take place at 4 p.m. on Feb. 20 at Community Church of the Valley at 27570 Commerce Center Dr. in Temecula. For more information, call the church at (951) 676-3007.
The pastor has asked attendees to make a donation to the church rather than buy flowers, which he said will go to funding Bethel Mission in India.
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