Bluegrass Boy Bill Keith Passes!

Image635813164242347054The most recent honoree in the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame has left us.   Banjo pioneer (and one-time Bluegrass Boy with Bill Monroe), Bill Keith died yesterday, October 23rd, 2015.

From his personal Facebook page, his family notified his fans and the world saying:

We are much saddened to have to announce that Bill Keith left us in the early hours of October 23. Wherever he is now, I know that he has only one regret: that his diminished energy made him postpone, one day too many, the message of infinite gratitude that he very much wanted to post on this forum to all of you.

Your joyful sharings, photos, support, musings, memories, and above all, devotion to music warmed every one of his days, and he never ceased to wonder at the fact that his modest self could inspire so much cheerful devotion.

Bill’s music will live through you all - and as Bill wanted, the Beacon Banjo tuners will also continue their proud tradition, now in the hands of his son Martin.

On his behalf, we thank you all with all our heart.

Claire, Charles and Martin Keith

Image635813171549745013William Bradford Keith was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended Amherst College and graduated in 1961. In 1963 he became a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys.

Keith's recordings and performances during these nine months with Monroe permanently altered banjo playing, and his style became an important part of the playing styles of many banjoists.

After leaving the Bluegrass Boys, he joined "Jim Kweskin Jug Band" playing plectrum banjo. He began playing the steel guitar and soon after 1968, found himself working together with Ian and Sylvia and Jonathan Edwards.

In the 1970s Keith recorded for Rounder Records. Over the years he performed with several other musicians, such as Clarence White and David Grisman in Muleskinner, Tony Trischka, Jim Rooney and Jim Collier.

Today, Keith style is still regarded as modern or progressive in the context of bluegrass banjo playing.

He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame at an awards ceremony in Raleigh, NC on October 1, 2015 and delivered a heartfelt address on that occasion, just three weeks prior to his passing.

The Keith style of playing the 5-string banjo emphasizes the melody of the song. Also known as the "Melodic" or "Chromatic style", it was first developed and popularized independently by Bobby Thompson and Bill Keith in the early 1960s. It is used primarily by bluegrass banjoists, though it can be applied to virtually any genre. Most banjoists who play Keith style do not use it exclusively, but integrate it as one aspect of their playing, a way of adding spice to the more common 3-finger style of Earl Scruggs.  The style came to prominence when Bill Keith joined Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys in 1963. He impressed audiences with his ability to play fiddle tunes note-for-note on the banjo.

Keith was not just a banjo player but also an innovator and inventor.  The Beacon Banjo Company of Woodstock, New York was founded in January 1964 by him and his college friend Dan Bump to manufacture and market their new D-tuners, now commonly called Keith tuners.. With these tuners, banjo players can change pitches accurately while playing.

The Beacon Banjo Company expanded the banjo’s abilities by making these specialized tuners able to install on all four long strings, instead of—as with the Scruggs-style cam tuning machines—only on the 2nd and 3rd strings

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