It was early 1985 in Toronto. My wife and I were late getting to the concert. We had to sit at the very back of an audience of 600 people. The faces on the stage were barely recognizable from where we were seated, but we managed to recognize all except one, and when he started to sing, I found myself in a trance and so did the rest of the audience. I had never seen him before. He was a new arrival in town.
I attended many of his house concerts shortly thereafter. He had a deep, resonant, and incredibly mellifluous voice. His renditions mesmerized me. I had never heard anything quite like it before. He rekindled my fading interest in music, and accepted me as one of his students. He taught me once a week. Each of his classes lasted until he thought he had given me enough for a day – typically two hours, sometimes three. He didn’t teach for money; he did this purely for the love of music. Over the years we became close friends.
After a few years, our professional lives separated us, and we lost contact with each other. In July of last year, we met again in Toronto after 15 years. In the meantime, his life had taken a whirlwind turn. Against the stark reality of a bald head, and a mechanical contraption in his throat that feebly attempted to help him communicate, his face adorned the same winsome smiles I had seen so many times in the years gone by. His wife told me he had recently undergone laryngectomy which led to the complete removal of his voice box. Chemo had usurped him of his luxuriant hair.
His music, the love of his life and his lifelong passion, was stilled forever.
The day after Christmas last year, in the dim light of a quiet North Carolina morning, he passed away, surrounded by family and friends. But he lives on with me in spirit through many of his rare recordings in my personal collections. Not long after I heard the news, I played his songs once again like so many times in the past, and I remembered in gratitude his generous gifts to me during the many hours he had spent with me sharing his precious and unusual talent.