Phil Zimmerman, New England bluegrass musician, photographer, and author of the 2008 photo book, Bluegrass Time, has died this morning. He was 76 years of age, and had been diagnosed with cancer last fall.
Raised in the midwest, Phil heard the music of early hillbilly artists growing up on the radio he picked up on WLS in Chicago and WSM in Nashville. He started playing guitar and banjo while in high school, but his life was turned around when, in his senior year, a friend gave him a bluegrass record. From that moment on, he was a grasser.
After college in New York, he remained in the northeast. Proficient on banjo, guitar, and autoharp, Phil would mostly be seen playing mandolin and singing with a number of groups in New England. Among them were Last Fair Deal, North By Northeast, American Flyers, Heroes of Tradition, Traver Hollow, and Bluegrass Union.
Phil had the heart of a teacher, earning his living teaching middle school English and language arts, as well as providing private instruction on banjo, mandolin, and guitar in Connecticut. He went on to design and teach college courses in photography, and mentored art students in college. Over the years he was also active in arts administration and public relations, and took over management of Music Camps North in 2016 following the death of Mike Holmes, founder of Banjo Camp North and Mandolin Camp North in Massachusetts.
Zimmerman had just recently made a generous donation of his vast collection of photographs and site recordings to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. These include classic recordings made on reel-to-reel tape of live performances from the very first bluegrass festivals in the 1960s, as well of stage photos of pioneers like Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, The Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse, and more.
His wife, Marcia, has said that a small family service will be held at their home, after which Phil’s ashes will be spread in their back yard which he loved so well. They will host a celebration of life memorial when it is safe to meet in groups again later this year.
R.I.P., Phil Zimmerman.