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Alex Hassilev, the Last of the Original Limeliters, Dies at 91

Alex Hassilev, the Last of the Original Limeliters, Dies at 91


Alex Hassilev, a multilingual, multitalented troubadour and the final unique member of the Limeliters, one of many greatest acts of the people revival of the early Nineteen Sixties, died on April 21 in Burbank, Calif. He was 91.

His spouse, Gladys Hassilev, mentioned the reason for his demise, in a hospital, was most cancers.

Before Beatlemania gripped America’s youth in 1964, the nation fell in love with the tight harmonies and conventional preparations of people music — and few acts drew extra adoration than the Limeliters, a trio made up of Mr. Hassilev, Glenn Yarbrough and Lou Gottlieb.

Mr. Hassilev performed banjo and guitar and sang baritone, not solely in English however in French, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian, all of which he spoke fluently. His bandmates have been equally brainy: Mr. Gottlieb had a doctorate in musicology and Mr. Yarbrough as soon as labored as a bouncer to pay for Greek classes.

Urbane and witty, they packed coffeehouses and school auditoriums with a repertoire that combined straight-faced folks requirements like “The Hammer Song” and cheeky tunes like “Have Some Madeira, M’Dear,” “The Ballad of Sigmund Freud” and “Charlie the Midnight Marauder.”

At their top, between 1960 and 1962, the Limeliters have been taking part in 300 dates a yr and recording an album each few months, two of which — “Tonight in Person” (1960) and “The Slightly Fabulous Limeliters” (1961) — reached the Billboard Top 10.

“The Limeliters have a sure musical and verbal finesse which locations them above and past their many contemporaries,” The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1961.

Alexander Hassilev was born on June 11, 1932, in Paris, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Leonide and Tamara (Rudd) Hassilev. With the specter of battle with Germany mounting, the household emigrated to New York in 1939, the place Mr. Hassilev labored as a civil engineer.

Alex proved a diligent, sensible pupil, breezing via highschool and coming into Harvard after serving within the Army. But he reacted in opposition to what he noticed because the college’s Yankee elitism and, after a yr, transferred to the University of Chicago. Even there he felt constrained by tutorial life; desperate to strive his hand at appearing, he returned to New York.

He studied on the Neighborhood Playhouse, realized the guitar and fell in with the rising folks scene round Greenwich Village. He had a small however memorable function as a guitarist in Roger Corman’s 1959 horror-comedy “A Bucket of Blood.”

Around the identical time he met Mr. Yarbrough, who was visiting from Aspen, Colo., at a party. Mr. Yarbrough had an everyday gig taking part in at a restaurant there referred to as the Limelite. Mr. Hassilev, an avid skier, quickly joined him.

With the Limelite as their residence base, the pair was quickly showing at venues alongside the West Coast. While taking part in at a coffeehouse in Los Angeles, they caught the attention of Mr. Gottlieb, who had just lately completed his dissertation on Fifteenth-century liturgical music and was arranging items for the Kingston Trio, one other fashionable folks group.

The three males started jamming collectively, and in 1959 they took their act on the highway. They booked a number of nights on the hungry i, a preferred venue in San Francisco; when the proprietor balked at placing all three of their names on the marquee, they determined to name themselves the Limeliters.

The trio’s success was swift. They signed with Elektra Records and launched their first album in 1960. In between touring and showing on tv, they recorded a string of business jingles, together with “Things Go Better With Coke.”

But their tight harmonies weren’t matched offstage, the place their fixed squabbling earned them the nickname the Bicker Brothers. After a airplane crash in Utah in 1962 left them shaken (however largely unhurt), Mr. Yarbrough left. The trio formally broke up in 1965.

Mr. Hassilev recorded a solo album and rekindled his curiosity in appearing. He had a number of successes, together with a visitor spot on the TV comedy “Get Smart” and a task within the 1966 comedy “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming!” taking part in one of many titular Russians alongside two different folks musicians who have been transitioning to appearing: Theodore Bikel and Alan Arkin.

But he had a tough time breaking away from his fame as a folks singer. He arrange a studio within the basement of his West Hollywood residence, and for a number of years labored as a report producer.

His first marriage, to Ginger Stanjer, led to divorce. He married Gladys Rios in 1976. Along together with her, he’s survived by his son, David, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mr. Hassilev reconvened the Limeliters a number of occasions within the late Nineteen Sixties and ’70s after which completely in 1981, with Mr. Yarbrough dropping out and in of the lineup. After Mr. Gottlieb died in 1996, Mr. Hassilev introduced in new performers, a lot of them veterans of the Nineteen Sixties folks scene. Mr. Yarbrough died in 2016.

Mr. Hassilev retired from the Limeliters in 2006, although he continued to play with them sometimes, and the band stays energetic at present. Though they by no means returned to their Nineteen Sixties reputation, they proceed to play to giant and enthusiastic audiences.

“In order to stay fashionable, you must outlive your competitors,” Mr. Hassilev instructed The Charleston Daily Mail of West Virginia in 2005. “It makes me really feel good to be on this discipline. It makes me really feel clear.”

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