William J. Spence III

William J. Spence III

William J. Spence III

VOORHEESVILLE — William J. Spence III, a master of the hammered dulcimer who helped revive the folk instrument in the 1970s, died on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, with his family at his side. He was 78.

“Bill was a friend to most, and will be remembered for his buoyant energy, infectious good humor, and for not taking life too seriously,” his family wrote in a tribute.

Son of the late Kenneth W. and Isabel R. (née Temte) Spence, Mr. Spence, known to his friends and family as “Bill,” was born in Iowa City, Iowa in 1940. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1962 with a bachelor of arts degree in communications, and served in the United States Army Security Agency from 1962 to 1965. From 1965 to 1998, he worked as an audio-visual and computer graphics specialist at the State University of New York at Albany.

A banjo player since high school, he took up the hammered dulcimer in 1969, after hearing it at the Fox Hollow Festival in Petersburg, in Rensselaer County, New York. In 1970, he formed Fennig’s All-Star String Band with local musicians, and in 1973 they recorded an LP titled The Hammered Dulcimer.

Shortly after its release on Front Hall Records, a medley of tunes from this album aired nationwide on PBS as the theme for Crockett’s Victory Garden. This recording has sold over 100,000 copies to date. Five more albums followed, inspiring hundreds of new hammered dulcimer enthusiasts and other instrumentalists.

As Mr. Spence wrote in the liner notes to The Hammered Dulcimer, “For me, playing the hammered dulcimer is like eating cashews … once you start, it’s very hard to stop.”

Mr. Spence also served as audio engineer and producer for most of the albums released on Front Hall Records. In 1977, he and his wife, Andy, were among the founders of Old Songs Inc., a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving traditional music and dance.

“A fixture of Old Songs,” his family wrote, “he could always be found running sound at concerts, or taking photos at the Old Songs Festival in his signature Hawaiian shirt and shiny hat.”

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William J. Spence III is survived by his wife of 57 years, Kay “Andy” Spence; by his daughter, Hannah Spence, and her partner, Neil Parsons; and by two nieces, and a nephew.

“He also leaves behind the entire Old Songs community and the current members of Fennig’s All-Star String Band, George Wilson and Toby Stover, who were his musical family for 44 years,” his family wrote in a tribute.

His sister, Shirley Ann (née Spence) Pumroy, died before him.

Memorial contributions may be made to Old Songs, Inc., Post Office Box 466, Voorheesville, NY 12186 (https://oldsongs.org/support/).

To receive information about a memorial celebration being planned for the fall, please join the mailing list: https://tinyurl.com/BillSpence.

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