This obituary is a contribution from Stephen Mougin, head of Dark Shadow Recording and guitarist with the Sam Bush Band, and Tony Watt, who runs a bluegrass teaching program in Boston.
The bluegrass community lost one of its truly extraordinary members earlier this week. Robert Fraker, founding member of the Bear Bridge Band, passed away on Tuesday, May 2, at the age of 70.
Robert was one of the most talented pickers and singers in the Northeast. He excelled at old school traditional bluegrass and oldtime fiddle in his later years. He was also a prolific songwriter who contributed material for his band’s recordings and many others, including covers by Valerie Smith/Becky Buller.
But far more important than his prodigious musical talent, was the way in which he cared deeply for others. Robert had a genuine interest in everyone he met and a particular talent for nurturing beginners, both young and old. Not only did he and his Bear Bridge band mates invite me to join them on stage starting at age 8, he personally taught me my first chords on the mandolin. I know that both Tony Watt, who co-wrote this with me, and I, benefited from this attention in our early days and have considered Robert a mentor and great friend ever since. Robert’s gracious and generous spirit made everyone feel like they were his old friends, even if they hadn’t known him since childhood, like we had.
Robert performed regularly with his wife Lillian, one of the best bass players and singers in the Northeast. His son, Ben, also took up the family trade and has become a wonderful mandolinist in his own right.
Although it’s often easy to speak in hyperbole after someone has passed away, Robert Fraker was truly a once-in-a-generation individual. His tremendous warmth, kindness and curiosity inspired everyone who came in contact with him. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him as we try to lead our lives by his example.