High Sierra’s Earl McKee passes on eve of JazzAffair

Earl A. McKee July 12, 1931-April 11, 2019

How sadly coincidental that charter High Sierra Jazz Band member Earl McKee passed away one day before the start of the 46th annual JazzAffair in Three Rivers, California where, as planned, the band performed for the last time, closing out 42 years as one of the country’s top traditional jazz Bands.

The plan was for Earl to sing his signature song, We’ll Meet Again as the last number of the band’s last set on Sunday, April 14 as he has over the past four decades. The prediction was made in a story in our January issue that there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the hall. Earl’s absence guaranteed that the occasion was an even more emotional experience.


Earl McKee was one of the most beloved musicians to travel the festival circuit. He was everybody’s friend. He came from several generations of talented musicians and was proficient on several instruments: the upright bass, guitar, and violin as well as the big bore brass horns. He was a stickler for the correct “bottom-line notes” and playing all the right changes, which contributed significantly to what became known as “the High Sierra sound.”

A Lifelong Rancher

Earl McKee Tuba

He was born in the front living room of the ranch house where he lived all his life. As a livestock rancher who raised cattle and quarter horses on the family 8,000-acre ranch, his oversized black cowboy hat was not a prop when performing, but a standard part of his daily wear. His singing voice had such a wide range that he could be described as either a baritone or tenor.

He and his wife Gaynor co-authored two books, the most recent of which has been described as “the most comprehensive work ever produced documenting the people, place, and events of Three Rivers and Kaweah Country.”


His daughters posted a note, saying, “The outpouring of love through messages, phone calls, texts, and heartfelt posts is deeply comforting to us all. We, his family are not the only lucky ones. Throughout the span of our lifetimes, we have witnessed how he touched people’s lives. He took the time to engage people personally and had a way of making everyone feel special. To him, they were.”

A celebration of Earl McKee’s life is being planned.  We will share the details as they come in.

Also Read: High Sierra Jazz Band to Say ‘Farewell’ at JazzaffairHigh Sierra Jazz Band Celebrates 40 Years of Hot Traditional Jazz

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