Deceased October 23, 2015
Bill Keith, one of the most talented and creative members of our class, died at his home in Woodstock, N.Y., on Oct. 23, 2015, soon after being inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. He was 75. Three other classmates and I had the privilege of rooming with Bill in Chi Psi’s penthouse suite during our junior year.
Bill’s intellect and his years at Phillips Exeter Academy prepared him well for his time at Amherst and enabled him to spend much of his junior year studying banjo instead of 18th-century French literature. I knew almost nothing about bluegrass music, let alone bluegrass banjo, but I realized that Bill’s music was mesmerizing and always uplifting. I soon learned that intellectually Bill could easily afford to skip class to work on his banjo, and we were the daily beneficiaries of his hours of practicing. Without knowing it, the four of us were treated to a new style of bluegrass banjo throughout the year. Clearly, Bill and his music greatly enhanced our time at Amherst.
Almost everyone who attended the Jim Rooney’60/Bill Keith/Chris Grose ’61 jam session at our 50th reunion considered it one of the true highlights of our celebration. I, for one, hoped we would have the pleasure of listening to another Rooney, Keith, Grose, et al. performance at our 55th reunion in May, but that was not meant to be. We have lost an incredibly talented and giving classmate who greatly enriched the world of music and those who enjoyed listening to or playing authentic bluegrass. May his recordings continue to do so in the future. We extend our condolences to his wife, Claire; his sons, Charles and Martin; his brother, Allan; his sister, Mildred; and his four grandchildren.
Dick Dimond ’61