Mike Kropp, life-long banjo player and cherished friend of the banjo and bluegrass community in the northeastern United States, died yesterday (11/10) in a hospital near his home in Rhode Island. He was 70 years old, and had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
It was actually pneumonia that took Mike, after having become imunocompromised from chemotherapy treatments. His bandmates in The KroppDusters report him being in good spirits at an October 29 rehearsal, but Mike described feeling exhausted the next day, and was admitted to the hospital on November 2. He never made it home again.
Born in New York, where he learned to play banjo and took part in the folk music scene in the 1960s, Mike eventually settled in rural Rhode Island with his wife Janet and their beloved dogs. He worked in the music business his whole life, starting out with Columbia Records in the late 1960s. There he collaborated on projects with John Hammond, José Feliciano, and Carole King.
Mike was boyhood friends with Don McLean, whose 1971 release, American Pie, dominated radio play in English-speaking countries that year. The two played banjo together as young men, and after they were reunited some years later when Mike was performing with Northern Lights, Kropp played banjo on Don’s You’ve Got to Share: Songs for Children album in 2003.
Mike had his own music store in Connecticut, before embarking on a career as an independent manufacturer’s rep, calling on music retailers in New England for Fishman, Remo, Hughes & Kettner, Modulus basses, and NS Design. Though not officially representing anyone, he regularly served as an intermediary between US banjo builders and Asian manufacturers, and was a liaison between them and the Remo company.
He was also a serious performer on the banjo, and a teacher of some note. He worked with Northern Lights for 17 years, assuming the banjo chair after it was vacated by Alison Brown, and was their longest serving member outside of Bill Henry and Taylor Armording. They were at the forefront of progressive bluegrass in the 1980s and recorded several albums for Flying Fish and Revonah Records.
After leaving that group, he helped found The Pegheads and his current passion, The KroppDusters, which included two different banjo players.
Last year, Mike took over management of Banjo and Mandolin Camps North, which had been operating in Massachusetts this past 15 years. His wife will continue to run the camp in his absence.
He leaves behind a multitude of friends and admirers from all of his various efforts in the music business.
R.I.P., Mike Kropp.