Bill Hinkley, West Bank folk icon, passes away

Lifelong local musician and teacher Bill Hinkley, who Paul Metsa once dubbed "The Patriarch of the West Bank," passed away this morning after a battle with cancer. He was 67.

Hinkley was best known as a longtime house musician on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion," where he performed with his partner Judy Larson. Friends say that Hinkley spent his final days surrounded by musicians and family at the VA hospice, where they sang songs and played instruments in celebration of his life and love of music.

Keillor has already posted a moving tribute to Hinkley over on the Prairie Home page, along with a slideshow of old photos and audio clips.

Bill had an insatiable appetite for music and his great happiness was to sit among kindred spirits and play by the hour, jazz, Irish, jug band music, old rock 'n' roll, country music, almost anything that allowed for improvisation. He was a father of the acoustic music community in Minnesota and everybody knew him and Judy.

Friend and local writer Martin Keller had this to say about Hinkley's final days:

There were musicians in and out of the VA hospice most everyday last week, playing and singing a wide repertoire of tunes from country to western to bluegrass, pop and jazz. It was quite a moving display of love, humor and valor -- Bill trying to play along on his mandolin when capable, or still cracking a joke. He was simply a lovely human being. Aside from playing at my wedding with longtime partner and musician Judy Larson and two other musicians, he brightened the lives of so many..."Out in Our Meadow" is one of the best 10 records ever made here by Bill and Judy.

We'll post a full memorial written by Keller in the next few days, and it will also appear in the print edition of City Pages next week.

For now, here's a clip of Bill being interviewed by Adam Granger, courtesy of the West Bank School of Music:

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