Don Kissil passes 

The former editor-in-chief of the bluegrass-orientated magazine, Pickin’, Don Kissil, passed away on May 18, 2023.  He was 89 years old. 

A familiar face at so many festivals since the 1960s, he had been taking pictures of bluegrass musicians, some of which adorn such County LPs as Kenny Baker’s A Bakers Dozen – Country Fiddle Tunes, Baker’s Grassy Fiddle Blues, Mac Martin & The Dixie Travelers – Dixie Bound, and Bill Clifton’s Come By The Hills, along with The Brocks’ Southern Grass (Atteiram) and Red Rector’s Appaloosa (Old Homestead Records). For the last named he wrote the liner notes also. 

Donald Yessay Kissil was born in The Bronx, New York City, on December 16, 1933.  

Graduating in the late 1950s with science degrees – BS and MS included – he took a job in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Kissil claimed to have always had a flair for theatre, and while he was studying in Kansas in the late 1950s, he became involved in local drama as a director and actor. Between 1963 and 1965 he was involved with the Morristown Little Theatre, directing, performing and, briefly, acting as the group’s president.  

From the early 1970s he promoted bluegrass shows at the Germania Park Hall, Dover; Norrell’s in Denville; and the Alfred Vail School, Morris Plains; all in the Morristown, New Jersey area, during the notoriously bad months between October and April trying to boost the careers of performers such as Larry Sparks, Red Rector, the Phipps Family, Rual Yarborough, and the King’s Countrymen. 

In 1972 Kissil set up a composer’s cooperative, Northbrook Music, that enabled musicians to be their own producers and publishers and keep a bigger percentage of the royalties from their songs and recordings. There was little financial profit in it for him, but it did give some bluegrass musicians a boost. 

Later Kissil became editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Pickin‘ magazine, started by Doug Tuchman, with the February 1974 edition. It prospered until the end of 1977 when, desperate for exposure on the newsstands, it was sold to a publishing house, that sought, aimlessly and, thus, ultimately unsuccessfully, to move it away from a centrist bluegrass theme to include various styles of acoustic/electric music. In the later months of the glossy magazine, he was given the role of Editorial Director. 

The magazine finally folded two-three months into 1979, and in the December its subscriber’s list was acquired by the publisher of Frets magazine.

After leaving Pickin‘, Kissil returned to producing shows, did freelance writing for various bluegrass magazines in the US and in Europe. 

Also, he wrote for medical/scientific concerns and served on the board of environmental commissions in New Jersey.  

Never a picker, he was a great friend of bluegrass music in the US and around the globe. As a lover of international travel, Kissil and his wife crossed the Atlantic to enjoy the entertainment at the European World of Bluegrass (EWoB) festival in 2009. 

Kissil was named Honorary Citizen of Winfield, Kansas in 1977; and elected to the Gibson Hall of Fame in 1979.

R.I.P., Don Kissil 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.