RIP: Vykki Mende Gray
(July 11, 1954-April 17, 2022)
Vykki Mende Gray, my beloved partner of forty-seven years passed away on Easter Sunday evening, April 17th.
I first met Vykki fifty years ago, when she was my editor and fellow photographer on our high school yearbook staff. When I first saw her glide across the room in what we sometimes called her “not princess dress” (it was really a “round dress”) it was, if not love, at least infatuation at first sight on my part at least.
Her proto feminist challenge of gender behavior norms, such as opening doors for “gentleman” only made her the more attractive to me.
She was an incredibly talented, intelligent, and accomplished person.
Vykki had a glioblastoma brain tumor and lived longer than expected with a great attitude and few if any side effects from the various treatments and still passed sooner that we had expected or hoped. But even her last week we enjoyed a visit to the Japanese garden in Balboa Park as well as to the Impressionist show at the art museum. We tried to have as many “adventures” as we could! She often enjoyed a margarita in the evening and responded with a “Yeah”, and a twinkle and a smile, when I inquired if she wanted me to mix her one.
While she grew up with Sam Hinton programs at the Central Library (and he always remembered her name!), and played violin in school orchestras from a young age, our interest in traditional music grew as our lives together did.
I got her a copy of Marion Thede’s “The Fiddle Book,” one of the few titles on the topic in those days. My first hug from her was after a San Diego Folk Festival concert, and our first true date was a Kenny Hall concert at Orango’s Natural Foods Restaurant at 1st and Washington, put on by the immortal Lou Curtiss.
Vykki later went on to produce “Kenny Hall’s Music Book” with transcriptions of a large number of his tunes, the way he played them, along with oral history in Kenny’s own words to add depth to his story. This 1999 Mel Bay Publication has a foreword by Alan Jabbour of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, where her extensive collection of field recordings for the project are now housed. Vykki wrote a fine obituary for Kenny Hall published on the FolkWorks website.
Her skills in transcribing music developed on this project were later called into play when she began exploring the music of Spanish colonial and Mexican California as “Los californios,” and she also notated some of the other fiddle music of the borderlands, especially from the Tohono O’odham and other traditions.