I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my friend and colleague in the world of fretless zithers, Garry Harrison.

Only a year older than I, his sudden passing served as another reminder of life’s unpredictability and preciousness.  Besides his extended family, Garry left behind many recordings and musical friends, which is legacy to his talent.

He was always interested in and inspired by my harp guitar efforts, and was passionate enough to have created his own lasting work on fretless zithers – a comprehensive collection and web site that he donated intact to Phoenix, Arizona’s Musical Instrument Museum.

He researched, restored, played and recorded these instruments, and, with my collaboration and cajoling, was the guy who likely “cracked the code” of gospel musician Washington Phillips’ instruments – an astounding feat!

A lasting legacy, indeed.  I’ll miss you, my friend.

Obituary provided by his family (below and PDF):

Garry Harrison: Aug. 16, 1954 – Sept. 4, 2012


Garry Lee Harrison, 58, a native of Coles County, Illinois, passed away peacefully in his sleep on September 4, 20 12 in his home in Bloomington, Indiana.

He was born August 16, 1954 in Charleston, to Clifford O. and Pauline (Mason) Harrison.

Garry was a 1972 graduate of Charleston High School. In his teens he learned to play fiddle from his father, a passion that he pursued throughout his lifetime. In addition to playing the fiddle, he also taught himself to build fiddles and other stringed instruments. He collected and restored a complete catalog of autoharps and fretless zithers, then donated that collection to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

In his adult life, Garry made his living working in the building trades until he accepted a position at Indiana University Libraries in 1998. In 2000 he became Head of the General Conservation unit of the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab at Indiana University.

In the 1970s, Garry began collecting and recording old-time music from senior musicians in Illinois which resulted in a collection that is housed in the Library of Congress and also in a book titled Dear Old Illinois.

In 1981, Garry’s band, The Indian Creek Delta Boys, was named the ‘Official State of

Illinois Traditional Old-Time String Band’ by act of the 82nd General Assembly of the State of Illinois.

Most recently, Garry played fiddle with the New Mules, a five-member string band that included his daughter Genevieve on fiddle and her husband Smith Koester on banjo. This band received a blue ribbon in the traditional stringband contest at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in West Virginia in 2008.

He recorded a number of LPs and CDs including “Late for the Dance,” “Red Prairie Dawn” (which consisted almost entirely of his own original fiddle tunes) and “Pride of America.”

Survivors include his daughter Genevieve (Harrison) Koester and her husband, Smith of Chicago, Genevieve’s mother, Gaye Harrison of Charleston, Illinois; twin brother Terry, and nephew Clifford Harrison of Charleston, Illinois; brother Steve and Linda (Catalana) Harrison and niece Molly (Harrison) Keene of St. Albans, West Virginia; and longtime friend and musical collaborator Jo Burgess of Bloomington , Indiana.

A memorial service will take place in the near future in Charleston, Illinois.