Bonnie Guitar

Bonnie Buckingham learned to play guitar as a kid, then began studying in her late teens under Paul Tutmarc, a relationship that led to marriage in 1944 and musical partnership in a string of country bands who cut 78rpm discs for Morrison Records. Eleven years later, under a new stage name, Bonnie Guitar was ensconced in a recording studio in California, where she established herself as a highly respected session player in a field then dominated by men. Her 1957 single “Dark Moon” became an instant Top 10 hit and led her to Ed Sullivan’s famed TV show as well as tour dates with Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps as well as the Everly Brothers. Having absorbed everything she could about recording technologies and techniques, Guitar returned home to help Bob Reisdorff form Dolton Records. The label enjoyed a level of success unmatched until the rise of Sub Pop three decades later. They shook the national charts in 1959 with international hits she produced for area teen bands including the Fleetwoods, the Frantics, and Little Bill and the Bluenotes. Guitar also took an interest in young African American combos, producing sessions for the Playboys, the Four Pearls, and reportedly, Jimmy “Jimi” Hendrix’s teen band, James Thomas and his Tomcats. She was, in short, a maverick who became an early crossover pioneer—scoring on pop and country charts—and made history as a female A & R talent scout for RCA Records and ABC-Paramount while also racking up her own hits right on through 1989. —PB

Because of her… The music business was forced to admit that a woman could contribute to a professional recording session as well as any good ol’ boy.
Now hear this: The hauntingly warm voice of Guitar’s fine early work can be heard on the Dark Moon compilation CD issued in 1991.

The Gypsy Gyppo String Band

Inspired by the rural fiddlers, banjo pickers, and country bands who recorded and performed before World War II, the Gypsy Gyppos played string band music with a ’60s sensibility that respected the old-timers’ style but treated it as source material rather than holy writ. Though carriers of the Southern mountain tradition, they didn’t try to duplicate the originals note for note. In the mid-1970s the Gyppo band turned on a whole new generation of urban enthusiasts—who had never been anywhere near old Grange halls or rural community centers—to square and contra dances by holding them in town. Audiences at the Gyppos’ shows were young computer programmers and social workers in blue jeans and long skirts; they had almost nothing in common with the organized square dance club whose members sported string ties and fancy shirts or crinolines under pastel dresses. The band’s Monday Night Dance was the starting point for today’s thriving dance scene; it continues with other bands to this day. The dances in the Folklife Festival’s Roadhouse, where thousands swing their partners in contras and squares every year, owe their origins to the Gyppo band’s influence. —JR

Because of them… We are home to one of the liveliest old-time music communities in the country.
Now hear this: The Gyppos’ version of Uncle Dave Macon’s “The Wreck of the Tennessee Gravy Train” on their eponymous 1977 LP models itself on the original but comes into its own with vocal harmonies and instrumental solos. 

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Image: Jerry Klein

Peter Hallock

Atheist, agnostic, or devout—it doesn’t matter: The Compline Choir that Hallock directs at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill has been luring fans for over 50 years to experience their soul-centering chant. Hallock is a musical polymath also known for his artistry as an organist and composer. He was music director at St. Mark’s for 40 years and founded the Compline Choir as part of his research into the sacred music, which has for over 1,000 years been used for the Office of Compline—the service concluding the daily cycle of monastic prayers. Each Sunday evening, the echoing, darkened cathedral space resonates with the choir’s musical balm. —TM

Because of him… Sacred chant groups mushroomed across the country.
Now hear this: Feathers of Green Gold includes a sublime performance of a complete service by the Compline Choir and Hallock’s work as a composer in settings of 10 Psalms.