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“It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127. He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat. He's interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing along number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, “Oh behave yourselves. Thank you.... and good evening everybody." "

Redbone had retired from performing in 2015 after an improbable career that saw the release of 16 full-length albums beginning with On The Track, his 1975 debut on Warner Bros.  He went on to put out albums on his own August imprint through Blue Thumb, Private Music and Rounder with his most recent new release 2014’s Flying By  was issued through his August Records imprint (distributed by Rounder) as have all of his recordings dating back to the mid-1980s. A compilation of his earliest recordings titled Long Way From Home was released Iin 2016 via Third Man Records.  

Redbone’s reverence for gramophone-era music including jazz, country, ragtime, blues and vaudeville, was reflected in his performance, stage patter and attire.  Most often dressed in a white suit with a string tie, wearing dark glasses and a panama hat, he gave voice to a bygone era of music, recalling Bing Crosby, Jimmie Rodgers, Jelly Roll Morton, Ted Lewis, Emmett Miller, Blind Blake and other notable artists whose heyday was the first half of the 20th century.  

The enigmatic Redbone emerged from the folk scene in Toronto and experienced a breakthrough when Bob Dylan “discovered” him at 1972’s Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.  Dylan noted that if he had his own record label, he would have signed Redbone. Always protective of his identity, Redbone eschewed a photo of himself for his first album.  Instead, it was adorned by an illustration of Michigan J. Frog, the cartoon character who had sprung into the modern day from a time capsule, the perfect visual metaphor for Redbone’s focus on that which had gone before.  “The only thing that interests me,” said Redbone in a 1991 interview, “is history, reviewing the past and making something out of it.”

His voice was heard in films and on TV, most notably “According To Our New Arrival,” the theme song for Mr. Belvedere, the hit series that ran on ABC for six seasons.   His version of Fats Waller’s “Your Feets Too Big” was the theme of all 72 episodes of Universal Television’s Harry and the Hendersons in the early 90s. 

He was the first performing artist to appear twice in the same season of Saturday Night Live (season 1: 1975-76) and returned to the show in season 3 (1977) and season 8 (1983). Only Leon Redbone could have performed such tin-pan alley repertoire such as “Shine On Harvest Moon” and “Ain’t Misbehaven” so successfully in that context.  He provided the voice of the animated character Leon The Snowman in the 2003 film Elf and performed a duet with Zooey Deschanel of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for the film.  

He never directly answered questions about his origin, age, etc., preferring to invest his creative energies in his artistry and the persona he inhabited.  He offered, “I don't do anything mysterious on purpose. I'm less than forthcoming, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm mysterious. It just means I'm not inclined to go there.”

Leon Redbone is survived by his wife Beryl Handler, daughters Blake and Ashley and three grandchildren, Devin, Amberley and Holland.

"Redbone is the cat that swallowed the canary. He has made a career from his musical passion, while keeping his own identity - which would only interfere - a mystery. If time hasn't forgotten him, it is only because time never fully knew Redbone in the first place." - Brad Wheeler/Globe & Mail, November 8, 2010  


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