Ben Freed passes

Ben FreedBen Freed, New York banjoist and retired optometrist, has died. He was 59 years of age.

Ben was that rare individual who was respected professionally both in his medical career, where he was a low-vision specialist and an Assistant Clinical Professor at New York Medical College and at SUNY School of Optometry, and in the music business where he had released several recordings of his original banjo music. Movie buffs will recognize his playing from the Coen Brothers’ breakout 1988 film, Raising Arizona.

Countless banjo students will remember Freed for his generosity, kindness and guidance. He maintained a web site,, with tips for beginning and intermediate players on everything from finding a good instrument and getting it in tune, to selecting a teacher and learning essential material. The site also contains transcriptions in tablature for well over 100 songs.

His most recent album, American Idle from 2011, is available in iTunes.

The last few years Ben had been fighting a battle with Parkinson’s Disease, but died from a sudden heart attack on May 20. His family suggests a donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation in lieu of flowers.

A memorial service is scheduled for this Saturday (5/23) at the Hergenhan Center in Armonk, NY. A musical celebration will be held at a later date.

R.I.P., Ben Freed.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.