George Winn passes
Veteran mandolin player, singer, and bandleader George Winn passed away on early Sunday evening, January 23, 2022, at the age of 88.
He was born in Kenbridge, Lunenburg County, Virginia, in 1933, and thanks to encouraging parents and the help of friend Uncle Ed Silverman, who founded the Virginia Folk Music Association, Winn made his debut on local radio in 1947.
Later Winn won the association’s mandolin competition so often that he was actively discouraged from entering again.
Winn took pride in playing bluegrass music in the authentic Bill Monroe tradition, and formed the band George Winn & the Bluegrass Partners in 1952. They played regularly at the Bluegrass Lounge on the southside of Richmond in the late 1960s, by which time they had established themselves as a busy and wide-reaching touring band.
For a while he received national exposure as a regular performer on the Old Dominion Barn Dance, a syndicated country music radio show broadcast every Saturday night on WRVA, Richmond, Virginia. Although the radio show has long since ceased, Winn performed on Old Dominion Barn Dance shows at The Beacon Theatre on Main Street, Hopewell, well into this century.
The Bluegrass Partners benefitted from Winn’s songwriting skills, bringing a greater degree of originality to their stage performances and records. Among the songs that he penned are Winn’s Blue Grass Symphony; Big Lucy #93; The Legend Of Bluegrass; The Memory Of Curly Butler; Sitting On The Banks; Treat Me Kind; Lonesome Willie; There’s Been A Change; Dear Mother’s Gone; Memories; Homeward Bound; Thinking Of You; Cold Wind Blows; Blues Plus Bluegrass; Life of Solitude; Backstage Confusion; Gone Are The Days; Thirty Three Blues; Waltz For Broken Hearts; Soreback; Florida Sunset; I Want To Hear The Angels Singing; String Of Eight; Blues Plus Bluegrass-Part II; Riding With Lee; Last March Through Seven Pines; Lunenburg County Girl, and The Forgotten Waltz.
Another, The Last Train Through Lunenburg County, the title track of Winn’s third album, is a reminder of his boyhood love of trains, and his dream of being a railway engineer thwarted when the passenger service stopped running through Kenbridge in 1956.
Winn did some fill-in work with Red Smiley in 1965 with some 20 songs from a May gig being recorded and many years later released on a CD.
In July of that year Winn and the band cut their first two sides – Thinking Of You b/w Life Of Solitude for a Nashville label.
Three more singles followed during the 1960s, all released by the Waynesboro, Virginia-based Major Recording Co. (MRC). I’ve Got You In My Heart is the A side of the first of these …..
In 1965 Winn demonstrated his admiration for Bill Monroe when he went on stage and read a poem that he had written about the Father of Bluegrass Music during the very first multi-day bluegrass festival, which was promoted by Carlton Haney, and situated on Cantrell’s Horse Farm just north of Fincastle, VA.
Monroe returned the compliment by inviting Winn to appear on the Early Bird Bluegrass Concert circa late 1980s.
Having previously visited Vietnam during the late 1960s, Winn, along with Red Battle (vocals/guitar), Eugene Wesley ‘Curly’ Butler (vocals/guitar), Fred Duff (banjo), Johnny Eagles (string bass), went on another USO tour during 1970 – this one lasting five-months – performing for troops in Germany, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Guam, The Philippines, The Marshall Islands, Hawaii, and Alaska.
The following year he released an LP, Go Where the Action Is, that ostensibly features recordings from the tour.
Another single – Legend Of Bluegrass/Memory Of Curly Butler – was released in 1972 (Butler passed away on April 8, 1971).
Marc Bolen played banjo with George Winn during the years 1974 to 1978 ……
“On the Blues Plus Bluegrass Part II release, one of the tunes (written by George) is called Lunenburg County Girl. The first few printings of the LP in 1977 had a misprint and this tune was labeled as ‘Lunenburg County Grill.’ For several years afterward, friends of George would often greet him by saying something such as: ‘Hey look! It’s the great short-order cook – I mean bandleader: George Winn!’.
George had a great sense of humor and a talented wit. One of his parting sayings was: ‘If you can’t say something nice about someone, just talk about someone else.’”
Winn’s association with Battle, which actually began in the 1960s, continued into the 1980s.
Besides being a great entertainer, he built beautiful hand-made instruments; mandolins, guitars and fiddles – he was a great luthier, and also ran a successful upholstery business for many years. In March 1980 he founded The Virginia Bluegrass and Country Music Foundation, Inc. in order to preserve and promote bluegrass and country music. Winn worked tirelessly to ensure its success, establishing the picturesque 21-acrea George Winn Memorial Park near Lawrenceville, Virginia, where he staged festivals.
Also, he made an appearance in the film, Lassie: Best Friends Are Forever, in 1994.
From the mid-to-late 1970s through the early 1990s, the Bluegrass Partners were the house band at the Cock ‘N Bull restaurant in Richmond, and Winn remained active, making personal appearances until very recently, with his final public show was held at his park in September of 2021, although he was fit enough to play at a jam session as recently as December.
In this video from September 23, 2011, George Winn & the Bluegrass Partners at the Virginia Bluegrass and Country Music Foundation Fall festival perform Hank Williams’ Waltz of the Wind
His band would do frequent benefit shows for the foundation – this one took place in Ashland on January 18, 2012; Careless Love
In another clip Winn confirms his deep affinity with Monroe, singing the classic Working on a Building ….
A great ambassador for bluegrass music over many years, he was a legend in central Virginia.
Fiddler Jared Jones joined the Bluegrass Partners in 2019 ….
“George carried himself with tremendous pride and integrity, and was very outspoken about what he believed. The crowd loved him and his quick wit and stage antics, often calling up former band members and friends from the audience to come up and sing with him. For his age it was amazing to watch him work and sing and play at that park each and every festival; up until very recently he seemed to be in remarkable health for a nearly 89-year-old man.”
He concluded, echoing the sentiments of many who were able to call Winn their friend ….
“They don’t make men like George Winn anymore, the last of his breed in bluegrass music and almost men in general. I’ll miss you, my friend.”
R.I.P. George Winn
George Winn & The Bluegrass Partners
- Go Where The Action Is (Major MRCLP 1171, released 1971)
- Hung Up On Bluegrass (MRC MRC-LP-2018, 1973)
- The Last Train Through Lunenburg County (MRC MRLP 2105
George Winn – Red Battle & The Bluegrass Partners
- Highway Of Sorrow (No Label, GC-1400, 1984)
- Blues Plus Bluegrass-Part Two (MRC MRLP 3019)
Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cutups
- Live at Valley View Park, Hallam, PA, 5-30-1965, (Kipepeo Publishing, February 27, 2017)
Bluegrass Today is grateful for the assistance of Ricky Bonovitch, Jared Jones, and Marc Bolen in creating this remembrance.