Crofut, 64, a Folk Singer, Banjo Player and Crossover Artist
Bill Crofut, a singer, composer and master banjo player whose style often
categorization, died on Jan. 25 at his
home in Sandisfield, Mass. He was 64.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Susan.
Though he surfaced during the folk-music boom in the late 1950's, Crofut
broke free of the mold through his penchant for experimentation, setting
music to the poetry of Robert Penn Warren or transcribing for banjo the
compositions of Vivaldi and Bartok.
Crofut, who was born in Cleveland, studied the French horn as a music and
literature major at Allegheny College in the early 1950's. "I was doing
O.K. until I met Pete Seeger," he said in a 1977 interview in The New York
Times. Aware of Seeger's troubles with the House Committee on Un-American
Activities, Crofut was among the first to raise money for his defense,
even though he admitted that he did not necessarily agree with him. Crofut's
$300 contribution earned him an invitation to Seeger's home in Beacon,
N.Y., and soon he was working as Seeger's "gofer" in exchange for a few
minutes of banjo lessons at the end of each day.
His other major musical influences, he said, were the jazz clarinetist
Tony Scott, whom he had met while teaching music in Japan, and the pianist
Peter Lang, whom he had heard performing Mozart sonatas in Salzburg.
Crofut recorded more than 20 albums, first as half of a folk duo with the
singer and guitarist Stephen Addiss, with whom he toured as part of the
State Department's cultural exchange program, and later with the keyboard
player Chris Brubeck and the classical guitarist Joel Brown.
His love of classical repertory led to collaborations with the baritone
Benjamin Luxon and the harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper in the 1970's, and
with the soprano Dawn Upshaw in recent years. He also spent summers
teaching a vocal master class at the Tanglewood Music Center. Crofut had
recently finished recording "Simple Gifts for Children," a compilation
of children's songs with Frederica von Stade and Ms. Upshaw.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Erika, of East
Canaan, Conn.; Anni, of Cambridge, Mass., and Catherine, of Lee, Mass.,
and three grandchildren.