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Saline County's Piano Man: Bob James

Posted Thursday, August 12, 2010, at 11:13 AM

By Andrea Hatfield

Editor's note: This article was first published in the Marshall Writer's Guild's 2009 "Saline Silhouettes" and is republished with permission of the author.

Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist Bob James has recorded more than fifty albums over the last four decades and performed in concerts throughout America and the rest of the world. His most recognizable song is "Angela," which he composed for the popular television program "Taxi" in 1978. Bob is still making music today whether it be solo or with his group Fourplay, his daughter Hilary DiSimone, or even with students from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in China.

Though Bob has been a New Yorker for many years, he was born and raised in Marshall, Missouri. His parents were lawyer A. Lamkin "Buddy" James and Alice McElhiney James. The James family's Saline County roots extend back over a century to Bob's great-grandfather, Walter Rex James, who settled on land near Arrow Rock and later moved his family to Marshall. Bob's grandfather, Albert Rex James, and his father both served as Saline County prosecuting attorneys and city attorneys for Marshall.

Bob displayed a natural musical talent very early in his life, starting piano lessons at age four with Sister Mary Elizabeth, a teacher at Mercy Academy Catholic School in Marshall. Mamie Dufford, then head of the piano department at Missouri Valley College, began instructing Bob when he was seven and continued through his teen years.

Bob and his older sister Katie performed together in recitals with Bob accompanying on piano while Katie sang. Though he excelled at the piano, Bob also played the trumpet and percussion instruments in the Marshall High School Band and Orchestra.

Bob met his wife Judy Heric while attending college at the University of Michigan. He completed his Master's degree in Music Composition in 1962 and the couple married in 1963. Bob and Judy have one daughter, vocalist Hilary DiSimone, and a granddaughter, Ava Marie. Bob and Hilary have performed together on two albums, "Flesh and Blood" and "Christmas Eyes."

Bob has returned to his hometown for several concerts, most recently in 2004, when Fourplay performed at the Crossroads Ampitheater. Another notable visit was in 1987 when "keyboard artist" Bob James and flutist Alexander Zonjic performed with the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra for its Silver Anniversary Celebration Concert. Harold Lickey, Bob's former high school music instructor, was the conductor of the orchestra at that time.

In 2007, Bob generously donated his complete music CD collection to date to the Marshall Public Library for local listeners to enjoy. Also on display at the library is his gold album, "Touchdown," which sold over 500,000 copies after its release in 1978. The album is framed and includes an inscription to his father, A. Lamkin James.

Though he has performed all over the world for millions of people, Bob James will always be Saline County's piano man.

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