Music pioneer and hitmaker Bonnie Guitar dies

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Facebook photo Bonnie Guitar

SOAP LAKE — Music pioneer and legend Bonnie Guitar died early Sunday morning. She was 95.

Born Bonnie Buckingham in 1923, Guitar was a longtime resident of Soap Lake, and had been suffering from a series of ailments, including congestive heart failure for some time.

“With heavy hearts our beloved Bonnie Guitar passed away peacefully this morning. The family would like to express their heartfelt gratitude for love and support during this difficult time,” read a statement on Guitar’s Facebook page.

In December, friends and family members launched a GoFundMe to help cover Guitar’s medical expenses, which had reached $5,000 per-month.

“She was known and loved by many people, not only in Soap Lake, but around the world,” said Soap Lake Mayor Raymond Gravelle.

A Seattle native, Guitar picked up her family’s passion for music at an early age and after winning some local talent competitions, began writing songs and singing in Seattle-area country and popular music acts in the early 1940s.

Her big break, however, came in 1952 when Hollywood music executive Herb Jeffires — a former singer with Duke Ellington’s band — heard some demo recordings and wanted her to come to Los Angeles to make music and even do a screen test with MGM.

Guitar eventually ended up as a session guitar player and learning to be a recording engineer — an unprecedented role for a woman in the music industry in the mid-1950s.

Her big break came in 1957 with the song “Dark Moon,” and in 1958 she founded her own record label Dolton Records in Seattle with music promoter Bob Reisdorff, which promoted local teen music acts like The Fleetwoods (who had the 1959 hit “Mr. Blue”), The Ventures and possibly even Jimi Hendrix’s teen band, James Thomas and his Tomcats. In the early 1960s, Guitar was then hired as a head of artist and repertoire for RCA Records country music division — again, another unprecedented role for a woman in the music industry.

Guitar continued to record and produce music until the early 1980s, retreating from public life after the death of her second husband Mario DiPiano in 1983, though she was eventually coaxed back into the spotlight and was a regular performer at The Notaras Lodge’s Businessmen’s Club until 1996.

According to Gravelle, March 25 was proclaimed “Bonnie Guitar Day” in Soap Lake in 2014.

“The City desires to recognize and celebrate Bonnie Guitar for her many contributions as a multi-talented artist who also contributed her talents as a (then rare female) session instrumentalist, talent scout, record label executive, audio engineer, and session producer to the success of many other aspiring young talents,” the city’s proclamation read.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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