January 11, 2016
By: John Greitzer
The East Bay Banjo Club lost two four string banjo legends and members over the holiday season. Harry Higgins passed away on December 23rd at age 81 and Georgette Twain died on January 4th at age 90. The banjo community lost two of its long-time leading lights with their passing.
“Legendary” would be an understatement in describing Harry Higgins. From his 17 years leading the Dixieland-style band at the original Red Garter in San Francisco, and band leading at Kezar and Candlestick parks for the San Francisco 49ers and Giants, to his more recent years with the East Bay Banjo Club and playing at Peet’s Coffee in Walnut Creek, Harry left his mark on countless delighted audiences over the decades. He reflected recently on how lucky he was to have been the bandleader at the Red Garter. “I just fell into it,” he said. “I was able to earn a living with it. I was really lucky.” Of course, it was his immense talent as much as luck that brought him that long stint as Red Garter bandleader. Harry was elected in 2008 to the National Four-String Banjo Hall Of Fame.
As a recent active member of the East Bay Banjo Club, he was well-loved both by long-time EBBC members and by newer ones as well. Even some of our most recent members have stories about how Harry helped them with banjo-playing tips, showed them how to replace a banjo head, or talked about chord-melody theory with them. For Harry, the club was a family affair. He would lead the club in songs sung by his wife of over 60 years Elinor, known as “Red” to EBBC members. But by far, his greatest delight was mentoring his granddaughter, Danielle, playing the banjo next to him, and encouraging her to sing many of the songs he loved. We are all certain that when Harry left us, he was hopeful that Danielle will continue his legacy in the world of the classic plectrum banjos.
The “Queen of the Banjo” and a lifetime member of the EBBC, Georgette Twain was a leading four-stringer since the early 1960s and continued touring the country until her recent illness. In recent years she performed with her daughter Cecilia, an accomplished violinist. Though Georgette moved to Nevada years ago, some of our long-time EBBC members still corresponded and visited with her up to the time of her death.
Her father encouraged her take up the banjo when her singing career was ruined by polio. She was a student and prodigy of Eddie Peabody, and became widely admired for her incredible technique and showmanship. Georgette was named to the Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame in 2007.
Her influence on the EBBC goes back many years when she taught many club members how to play the banjo. In fact our current Music Director, Betty David, and our newly elected President, Jack Starr, both took lessons from Georgette in their early playing days.
EBBC will miss both Harry and Georgette. We wish their families well.