Maine bluegrass pioneer Al Hawkes has been in failing health and unresponsive since Friday and was in a hospice Wednesday, just three weeks after the death of his wife, a longtime Westbrook city clerk.

Fixtures in Westbrook, Barbara and Al Hawkes co-owned a television repair shop and The Sound Cellar, both on Route 302. Barbara Hawkes, a longtime city clerk, died Dec. 3.

Hawkes is considered “country music royalty,” said Clifford Murphy, director of folk and traditional arts for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Darlene Hawkes Doughty, Hawkes’ daughter, said her father, who lived in Westbrook since he was a boy, turned 88 on Christmas Day.

Hawkes’ wife, Barbara, died Dec. 3 at age 86. She was a longtime city clerk for Westbrook and co-owned, with her husband, a television repair shop and The Sound Cellar, both based at Hawkes Plaza on Route 302 in Westbrook. The plaza is known for its large sign and a 13-foot statue of a TV repairman. Al Hawkes built the sign in 1962.

The Hawkeses’ repair shop has since been replaced by Lenny’s Pub. Hawkes visited and occasionally sang at the pub until this fall, said Nelly Kennedy, secretary of the Bluegrass Music Association of Maine.

In recent years, she said, Hawkes could no longer play mandolin or guitar because of the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Hawkes was diagnosed with the disease, a nervous system disorder that affects movement, in 2000.

Al Hawkes was called a “Maine and national treasure” by then-U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe when he turned 80. The International Bluegrass Music Museum in Kentucky recognized him as one of the “Pioneers of Bluegrass,” the early generation of bluegrass musicians. He was half of a duo with Alton Myers, making them the first interracial duet in bluegrass.

Bluegrass musicians from around the country used to visit Hawkes’ recording studio in Westbrook to produce songs with him.

Hawkes was born in Rhode Island, but his family moved back to Maine when he was 10. His parents had met at Westbrook High School.

Joe Kennedy, who helped found the Maine bluegrass association with Hawkes, said Hawkes became a fan of bluegrass as a child in Westbrook. He was able pick up powerful Southern bluegrass stations on the radio in Maine, he said, learned to play guitar and mandolin and then performed songs he heard on the radio.

“There was a blend at the time of country and bluegrass – hillbilly music, it was called then,” Kennedy said. Hawkes even set up his own “outlaw station” to broadcast his songs, Kennedy said.

When he was drafted into the military in the early 1950s, Hawkes was sent to northern Africa and featured on an Armed Forces Radio station there, Kennedy said. After returning to Maine, he often met up with fellow bluegrass musicians in Boston and even met some serving in the military at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, Kennedy said.

Soon, in addition to playing his own music, Hawkes set up a recording studio in Westbrook and had his own recording label, Event Records.

“He put Maine on the bluegrass map,” Kennedy said, and by the early 1970s “Al was at the top of the heap.”

He recorded the Bailey Brothers, Don Stover and other leading bluegrass performers, Kennedy said, but the record label folded later in the ’70s after the Boston warehouse where the records were stored burned.

But Hawkes’ love for music didn’t cool, and he continued to perform, often appearing at blues festivals throughout Maine, Kennedy said.

“Al was one of the iconic figures,” he said.

“He played right until the end,” said Nelly Kennedy, Joe Kennedy’s wife.

In recent years, Hawkes’ songs focused on Maine, and he released a CD in 2015 called “I Love the State of Maine.” Hawkes wrote all but two of the songs on the album, and most focused on his memories of events or people in the state or places in Maine, such as Westbrook, Down East Maine and the North Woods.

Hawkes donated the proceeds from the album to the Maine Parkinson Society.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]


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