Bert Baumbach, Final Member of the Dixie Flyers, Has Died

The Dixie Flyers (Bert Baumbach, 2nd from left)

Bluegrass music is a distinct art form specifically from Kentucky and the southeastern United States. But one group took it upon themselves to import this important form of country music north of the border to Canada, and became very successful doing it. They called themselves the Dixie Flyers, not to be confused with a Nashville minor league hockey team, or a Tennessee studio group of the same name, and now their final founding member has died.

Led by flatpicking guitarist Bert Baumbach and mandolin player Ken Palmer, the group was formed in Toronto in 1974 with harmonica player Willie P. Bennett, bassist Brian Abbey and banjo player Dennis LePage on the banjo. Later based out of London, Ontario, Bert Baumbach and Ken Palmer were the primary singers, as well as the group’s nexus throughout the years as other players came and went.

When performing at the Carlisle Bluegrass Festival in 1975, the group caught the ear of none other than the Father of Bluegrass, Billy Monroe. “The Dixie Flyers play good bluegrass. They play it the right way,” Monroe was quoted saying about the group, and the endorsement made them a foundational and influential outfit for bluegrass in Canada. Monroe also invited them down to perform at his Bean Blossom Festival in Indiana.

Soon the Dixie Flyers were signed to Boot Records, releasing albums, and playing folk and bluegrass festivals throughout North America. They hosted a television show called Bluegrass Express on CFPL out of London in 1985, and also took part in a weekly radio show on CJBX-FM for seven years. These efforts really helped to spread the love for bluegrass throughout Canada.

After experiencing heart problems, mandolin player Ken Palmer retired from the group in 2010, and passed away in 2013, but not before they were indicted into the London, Ontario Music Hall of Fame. Bert Baumbach continued to keep the group going in different iterations throughout the years.

On November 23rd, Bert Baumbach died at University Hospital, London, Ontario, at the age of 76. Dementia had taken away his ability to play guitar some years before, but he sang all the way up to his death. Born Robert John Baumbach in 1945, he was known by family and friends as Robert, not Bert. He attended Central Collegiate where he met his wife Margaret who he married in 1969.

Robert Baumbach is survived by his brother Gary Baumbach, sisters-in-law Alma Hyslop, Judy House, Pat Montague, and several nieces and nephews. He was cremated upon his wishes, and no funeral services are planned.

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