Manitoba has lost one of its popular bluegrass performers. Banjo player Gene Bretecher passed away on September 15, drowning in Shuswap Lake after falling from his boat while fishing. He was 74 years old.
Gene had played the banjo since he was a young man, drawing inspiration from seeing Bill Monroe near his home. He took the opportunity to visit with the banjo player, found out that the four string banjo he had purchased at a pawn shop was not what he needed, and set off on a life-long passion for the instrument.
A stint with Winnipeg’s Northern Gentleman in the 1960s introduced him to a wider Canadian audience, as did his own solo album, Bluegrass Hoedown, in the late ’70s. A few years later he received the Instrumentalist of the Year award from the Manitoba Association of Country Artists. His banjo (and guitar) playing was featured in a number of television specials for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Gene remained close to the music throughout his life, taking private students at his home.
A recent stroke had forced him to relearn the banjo, but a lifetime of disciplined practice came in handy, and Gene was able to do it.
The bluegrass community in central Canada mourns his loss.