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Bonnie Hearne, Santa Fe music icon, dies at 71

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Country music duo Bonnie and Bill Hearne are shown  in February at a party for their 25th anniversary as regular performers at the bar at La Fonda on the Plaza.

SANTA FE – Bonnie Hearne, a staple in Santa Fe’s music community for decades as part of a popular country and folk music duo with her husband, died Tuesday at age 71.

Bill and Bonnie Hearne made waves with albums like 1997’s “Diamonds in the Rough” and tours that featured major country stars like Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker and others.

The couple had a standing gig with the La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe for the last 25 years. Bill has continued playing there with his trio since Bonnie stopped performing regularly due to health complications in 2003.

In July, the couple — who originally got together in Austin — was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the New Mexico Music Commission Foundation’s Platinum Music Awards. Bonnie sang and played piano, while Bill sings and is a guitarist.

Bill told the Journal Wednesday that his wife was admitted to Christus St. Vincent Medical Center on Christmas Eve due to complications from sepsis, a complication from infection. Before being taken to the hospital, he said, she was preparing to sing in a church performance.

 

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Bonnie Hearne, at the piano, performs with husband Bill Hearne at one of their regular gigs at the bar at La Fonda, this one in 2000. (EDDIE MOORE/JOURNAL)

Bonnie, a native Texan, went blind at age 10 and taught herself music while at the Texas School for the Blind. After meeting Bill in 1968, the two performed together and moved to Santa Fe in 1991 after living about 10 years in Red River.

Her last public performance, Bill noted, was in September at the annual Michael Hearne’s Big Barn Dance Music Festival in Taos. Michael Hearne is Bill’s nephew. “She had a great time,” said Bill. “She was frail, but she enjoyed it.”

The couple became established as local music icons over the last couple of decades.

Margaret Burke, a local bassist and friend, recalls when the Bill and Bonnie were still playing together. The duo would come into El Farol on Canyon Road, where Burke played with her own group, and Bonnie would perform everything from R&B to Carole King hits with the band.

Margaret Burke, a local bassist and friend, recalled when the two were still playing together and Bonnie would come into El Farol on Canyon Road, where Burke played with her band at the time, and Bonnie would perform everything from R&B to Carole King hits with the band.

“She had the voice of an angel,” said Burke. She referred to Bonnie as a strong and “fierce” woman despite her recent fragile state.

Susan Holmes, who used to tour with the couple, remembered Bonnie having perfect pitch and, even though she was blind, could mentally visualize colors that correlated with individual music notes. “She was adored, rightfully so,” Holmes added.

Even after Bonnie stopped performing regularly, she still attended her husband’s La Fonda shows and joined the band from time to time, said Jenny Kimball, La Fonda’s board chairman and a personal friend.

Kimball described the duo as “magical” when performing together. She also said Bonnie was one of the sweetest people she knew but with a “wicked” sense of humor. “I never met someone so gracious and kind as Bonnie was,” said Kimball.

Burke said nothing would stop Bonnie from coming up on stage for a song if she was able, even when she was going through a difficult times. “She was just a professional to the end,” said Burke.

Memorial services for Bonnie will be Wednesday, Jan. 3, said Bill. A private service will be earlier in the day, and a public graveside service with a reception to follow will begin around 1:15-1:30 p.m. at the Rivera Family Funeral Home, 417 E. Rodeo Road.

 

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