Bill Hinkley 1942-2010


Memorial – celebration for bill – July 7, 2010 (Wednesday)

            At the Nicollet Island Pavilion from 5:00 to 11:00 p.m.

            Brief memorial service to be led by Rev. Bill Teska

            Musicians (and instruments) will be coming

            Everybody welcome!



The Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press have run nice articles on Bill – see below.  In addition, check out the following

Picture and article by Garrison Keillor:

Bio on Folk Artists

Blog with Photo

MPR Prairie Home Companion – Off the Air Tribute – includes pictures and videos





Search the Internet for Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson – there are more blogs and articles in smaller newspapers.





William Bradbury Hinkley


Hinkley, William Bradbury Age 67, of Minneapolis, died Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at the Minneapolis VA Hospital.  Preceded in death by his parents Howard and Dorothy Hinkley, brother Seth Howard Hinkley, and sister Jane Lapchak.  Survived by his wife, Judy Larson; daughter, Rebecca Nyros; granddaughter, Briana Nyros; sisters, Carolyn (Arthur) Green and Cindy (Richard) Reinking; nieces and nephews, Beth Kling, Sally Star, Mary Elizabeth, Seth James (Sara), Jennifer (Milo) Miller, Christina Lapchak, Sarah Lapchak, Alicia Lapchak, and Phillip Lapchak; and numerous grandnieces and grandnephews.  Blessed with prodigious recall, Bill mastered Chinese and Japanese while serving in the Air Force from 1961 - 1965.  After leaving the Air Force Bill turned his attention to music.  Always seeking knowledge, he taught himself guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, jug and a number of other traditional instruments; ever the player and instructor; he spent the rest of his life teaching others to play.  Countless students learned their craft from him and, in doing so, found that a music lesson from Bill was, on a greater scale, a lesson in life.  Bill's five-decade long career as a musician started with a gig at the Tokyo Grand Ole Opry in the early 1960's.  After moving to Minneapolis in 1970 he joined the legendary Minneapolis group The Sorry Muthas and toured with them nationally.  He became musical and life partner with Judy Larson in 1972.  They helped inaugurate Garrison Keillor's radio show, A Prairie Home Companion and were featured regularly thereafter.  They also toured nationally for decades.  After a long engagement they married in 1990.  They remained partners in life and music.  Bill was loved and respected by all who knew him and he will be deeply missed by family, friends and the greater musical community.  A celebration of Bill's life will be announced.

RIP Bill.  Boat for sale.

Published in the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press on May 30,




Star Tribune May 29, 2010

A farewell to Bill Hinkley

Provided by "A Prairie Home Companion"

Judy Larson, Bill Hinkley, Garrison Keillor, Bob  Douglas and Rudy Darling in Worthington, Minn., in  the late 1970s.  


He was a hero, mentor and friend to  hundreds of Minnesota musicians.  

By PAUL METSA, Special to the Star Tribune   Last update: May 29, 2010 - 1:37 PM  

I am not sure they make men like Bill Hinkley  anymore.  

The patriarch and godfather of Minneapolis' West Bank music scene, Hinkley was a master musician, an Air Force veteran who spoke five languages (including Greek and  Mandarin Chinese), a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, a human jukebox of thousands of songs, storyteller, teacher, sit- down comedian, devoted lover-then- husband of Judy Larson for five decades,  historian, hero, mentor and friend to  hundreds of musicians and thousands of fans.

He was both Will Rogers with a mandolin and a philosopher king who held sway in saloons, concert halls, radio shows, campfires, kitchen tables, festivals and benefits -- the  kind of American who defines this country, and one I was honored to call my friend.

Hinkley, who died Tuesday at age 67, had been fighting a blood disorder for the past  couple of years that sapped his strength but never his love for music or his God-given calling to entertain and enlighten with his  encyclopedic knowledge of music -- in all  styles, from every country and in all time  signatures.  

As a performer he swung and improvised  with an abandon that reminded one of Joe Venuti, Django Reinhardt or the Mississippi  Sheiks.  He could quote anyone from Shakespeare to Dick Tracy. He had a sense of  humor that recalled, at turns, the likes of  Mark Twain, H.L Mencken or Lord Buckley.  And believe me, you have not lived until you've heard Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson sing "Amazing Grace" to the melody of the "Gilligan's Island" theme.  Simply brilliant.  

A Twin Cities musician friend referred to Hinkley as "our Socrates."  Witnessing the  dozens of friends who made the pilgrimage to Hinkley's hospice at the Minneapolis  Veterans Medical Center -- most with  instruments in hand, to serenade and play  with him when he was able -- confirmed that.  It was a folkies' Nordic Viking ritual to bid  farewell to the king.  

As we assembled there in the community  room on May 20, right before dinner, the  wheelchairs of disabled vets rolled in.  You  could sense a solidarity with one of their own -- brothers in arms, enjoying the fruits and flowering of their service and sacrifice via Brother Bill.  

I recently learned that Hinkley attended the same St. Louis grade school as John  Hartford, the Mississippi River banjo virtuoso.  This makes perfect sense. Both  were masters steeped in the grand tradition of folk music, and they shared an abiding love for American culture, music and history.  They passed on that love and knowledge to a  couple of generations of musicians.  It is now  our obligation to do the same.  

Hinkley's greatest lessons to me were  distilled in two simple concepts: "End every  story with a smile or a laugh," and "the best  music is played without pretension."  

While Hinkley and Larson never got rich playing folk music -- he was never in the music business, but rather was in the business of making music, a servant to the  song -- all of us got richer listening to them  play.  

Paul Metsa is a Minneapolis  singer/songwriter.



Star Tribune – May 26, 2010

Minneapolis folk giant Bill Hinkley  was a teacher to the end  

The man whom Garrison Keillor  called the “Buddha of the West Bank” died at 67, surrounded by song.   

By JON BREAM, Star Tribune   Last update: May 26, 2010 - 9:47 AM  

The way Garrison Keillor introduced them --  "BillHinkleyandJudyLarson" -- they were  inseparable: Minnesota's First Couple of Folk  Music, regulars on the early years of "A  Prairie Home Companion," mainstays on the  West Bank music scene and teachers to two  generations of musical wannabes.  

It's now just Judy Larson. Hinkley died  Tuesday of a blood disorder in a hospice at  the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center. He  was 67.  

In his final days, a who's who of Minnesota  musicians stopped by to do what musicians  do -- sing songs, tell stories and share hugs.  

"We had quite a circus there," Larson said.  "Music was woven into him. We tied a  mandolin around his neck and he'd try to  play. He'd join in to sing even though he hadn't talked all day. Music revived him."  

When Minneapolis singer-songwriter Paul  Metsa visited about 10 days ago, five or six  people were waiting for Hinkley in his room.  

"We were all pretty aware of the severity of  the situation," Metsa recalled. "Bill came  rolling in singing 'Heartbreak Hotel,'  lightening the load for all of us. At one point  he stood up, cane in one hand, and his other  hand holding mine strongly. He closed his  eyes and sang 'Abide With Me.' Dakota Dave  Hull was playing guitar, with Bill shouting out  some of the trickier chords as they went  along. He then gave a two-minute  dissertation on the two guys that wrote the  song, with a note about the monosyllabic  second verse. A teacher 'til the end."  

Hinkley, who taught himself how to play  mandolin, fiddle, guitar and banjo, taught for  decades at the West Bank School of Music in  Minneapolis and the Homestead Pickin' Parlor  in Richfield. He also competed in the State  Fair fiddling contest.  

"He inspired, encouraged and facilitated the  whole contest -- he was its guiding force,"  said Nate Dungan, who books entertainment  at the fair. "And he won the Gamblers  Competition every year, where you draw a song title out of a hat and have to play it.  There's only one person I could say who  knew more about American popular song  than Bill, and that was Tiny Tim."  

Born in St. Louis, Hinkley enlisted in the Air  Force, which sent him to Yale University to  study Chinese. He eventually received a  degree in Asian studies from Washington  University but he decided to hit the road  making music. After meeting a Minneapolis  jug band called the Sorry Muthas at a Chicago  folk festival around 1969-70, he joined the  group and headed to the Twin Cities. He and  Larson, who was in the band, hit it off,  driving around to gigs as a duo on a Vespa,  with her on the back holding their guitars.  

Hinkley and Larson were the first musical  guests ever on "A Prairie Home Companion."  "Bill, without an instrument in his hands,  could be gruff and jumpy and growl at you,"  Keillor said Tuesday.

"Bill, playing his  mandolin or fiddle or guitar, was always in g ood humor and sometimes even blissful. He  was self-taught, stubborn, very generous --  especially to students. He lived in music, put  it in his coffee, spread it on his toast. He and  Judy were the Buddha and Juddha of the  West Bank. They played music like cats play  with ping-pong balls, with joy and vigor and continual surprise."  

In addition to his wife, Hinkley is survived by  his daughter and granddaughter in Florida  and two sisters. A memorial service is  planned.  Jon Bream • 612-673-1719


Star Tribune – May 25, 2010

Mpls. music master Bill Hinkley dies


Bill Hinkley on the porch of the West Bank School of Music, 1989

Star Tribune photo by Joey McLeister

Bill Hinkley, folk-music master, West Bank guru and “A Prairie Home Companion” mainstay, died Tuesday at the VA hospital in Minneapolis. He was 67.

As Garrison Keillor would introduce them, it was BillHinkleyandJudyLarson – so inseparable that Keillor spoke of them as if they were one. They were regulars on Prairie Home’s early years. And Hinkley, a singer/mandolinist/fiddler/guitarist/banjo player and longtime teacher at the West Bank School of Music, made music up until his last days. There was a gathering of friends and fellow musicians playing at Hinkley’s hospice on Friday.

Minneapolis singer/songwriter Paul Metsa recalls a moment with Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson from nine days ago:

“There were five or six of us waiting for him to come back from his room. We were all pretty aware of the severity of the situation. Bill came rolling into the room singing ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ lightening the load for all of us. At one point he stood up, cane in one hand, and his other hand holding mine strongly. He closed his eyes and sang ‘Abide with Me,’ an old hymn from 1850 or so. Dakota Dave Hull was playing guitar, with Bill shouting out some of the trickier chords as they went along. He then gave a 2-minute dissertation on the two guys that wrote the song, with a note about the monosyllabic second verse. A teacher ‘til the end.”

Hinkley was suffering from a blood disorder that caused his bone marrow to manufacture an overabundance of red blood cells.



Folk musician and former 'Prairie Home' cast member Bill Hinkley dies at 67

Pioneer Press - Updated: 05/26/2010 12:09:01 AM CDT

Twin Cities folk icon Bill Hinkley died Tuesday at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. He was 67.

An original member of the "A Prairie Home Companion" performing cast, Hinkley taught hundreds of local students guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo. He was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1999. Hinkley and his wife and musical partner, Judy Larson, earned a lifetime achievement award from the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association.

A St. Louis native, Hinkley spent time in Texas, Virginia, Japan and Michigan before settling in Minnesota in the early '70s with Larson.

In a statement on his website, Garrison Keillor remembered Hinkley as someone who "chose to live his life on his own terms, off the clock and outside the grid. He had little interest in the music business as such, marketing, networking and so forth. He enjoyed playing the radio show, I think, but he would just as soon sit around in his back yard for six hours with friends and play their way through a river of tunes, one after another."

Hinkley was suffering from a blood disorder and spent his final days in hospice. A Facebook tribute page, "Friends of Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson," was flooded Tuesday afternoon with memories and anecdotes from friends and family. Funeral arrangements are pending.

— Ross Raihala




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Scanned images from the St. Paul Pioneer Press