PORTLAND, Maine — Social media was flooded with tributes Friday after news broke that Maine bluegrass pioneer Al Hawkes died overnight. He was 88.
Hawkes’ wife of 66 years, Barbara, died on Dec. 3.
“I will always remember Al Hawkes for his kindness, humor and passion for music,” Westbrook restaurateur James Tranchemontagne said on Facebook. “A kind, passionate man with a love for all. Rest in Peace my friend.”
Though born in Rhode Island, Hawkes was an icon of Maine music and the town of Westbrook his entire adult life. In addition to his musical accomplishments, he ran a television repair shop on Route 302 for decades. The shop was marked by a 15-foot-tall wooden sign shaped like a repairman with a swinging arm. The landmark still stands today.
Below his shop, Hawkes ran a recording studio and his own Event Records label. In the studio, he recorded the likes of Lenny Breau, Dick Curless and Hal Lone Pine.
International Bluegrass Music Association award-winning artist Valerie Smith remembered Hawkes in an Instagram post.
“He not only helped build the foundation of the bluegrass industry and music, but also he was a bright light,” Smith wrote. “Al was so kind to share his stories and music with me. I will miss him much.”
Hawkes began his music career after listening to late night, high-power radio stations from the southern states as a teenager in the 1940s. Bluegrass music was just getting started at the time. Hawkes bought a guitar and taught himself how to play what he heard. Eventually, Hawkes would be known more for his mandolin playing.
Not long after, Hawkes formed the hillbilly duo Allerton & Alton with fellow Mainer Alton Myers, who was African-American. They were the first known interracial bluegrass act. They played live local radio shows in Portland until Hawkes entered the Maine National Guard in 1951 and was sent overseas.
Portland music store Buckdancer’s Choice posted about Hawkes on Friday, calling him, “A true Maine legend and music pioneer.”
Over the years, Hawkes traveled, played a lot of bluegrass and gained fans all over the globe. He was also recognized as a member of the first generation of bluegrass musicians by the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Kentucky.
Longtime WMPG disc jockey Robert “Blizzard Bob” Wade posted online, “My heart weighs heavy today as my dear friend Al Hawkes has joined that heavenly band with his beautiful wife Barbara, together again.”
In 2010, Andrew Jawitz produced a short television documentary called “The Eventful Life of Al Hawkes.”
Westbrook High School student Rachel Richards said of Hawkes Friday on Facebook: “It was such an honor to be able to sing alongside Westbrook’s own Al Hawkes. His legacy will carry on for many more generations. rest In peace.”