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Thursday, January 20, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dudley Hill, who started popular band Pearl Django, dies at 56

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dudley Hill, a longtime bluegrass, rock and jazz guitarist, helped start a string band in the mid-1990s to honor jazz great Django Reinhardt by playing his music at gigs around Western Washington. It was supposed to be a hobby.

Instead, Mr. Hill's band, Pearl Django, went on to tour Europe, recording seven CDs and developing a cult following. Members started Django Fest Northwest in 2001, a four-day festival of workshops and live music on Whidbey Island that every October drew bands and hundreds of fans from around the world.

Mr. Hill died of colon cancer Saturday at his Tacoma home, his brother and a sister by his side. He was 56.

"He was actually amazed how fast it took off," his daughter, Kashia Jones, said of the band's success. "He is very proud of where the band came from, and where it is going."

Mr. Hill was born on April 19, 1948, in Tacoma. A naturally gifted musician, he taught himself to play the guitar and could perform songs the first time he heard them on the radio, his family said.

After graduating from Stadium High School in Tacoma in 1966, he enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Upon returning to Tacoma, he worked at a plywood factory and played guitar in pubs on weekends. He met his future wife, Joanne Hogenson, at a lounge in Tacoma. The couple married in 1970 and divorced four years later.

Mr. Hill also gave guitar lessons. Among his students, said his family, was then-12-year-old Mark O'Connor, today considered one of the world's best fiddlers.

During the 1970s, Mr. Hill recorded a highly acclaimed bluegrass album titled "From a Northern Family."

In the 1990s, he met a talented local guitarist named Neil Andersson, with whom he later formed Pearl Django.

"Dudley and I were interested in the music of Django Reinhardt, so we started to learn his songs," said Andersson. The duo later added a bassist, a violinist and a third guitarist. Mr. Hill composed two songs on their debut album, "Le Jazz Hot" in 1995. Pearl Django was in high demand around the state after jazz station KPLU 88.5-FM played their songs.

Pearl Django received rave reviews nationwide and performed in France and England. The band had a memorable 2001. National Public Radio recorded an interview and a performance by Pearl Django in the spring. In August, the band performed in Iceland, returning to Washington to start the Django Fest Northwest on Whidbey Island in the fall.

But that same year, Mr. Hill was diagnosed with colon cancer and later could not join the band on many road trips. He quit the band last March.

"We never replaced him," said Andersson. "He is irreplaceable. There is no one like him."

Mr. Hill is survived by his brother, Bob Hill of Tacoma; sisters Sally Hill of Graham, Judy Wells of Puyallup and Susan Dunigan of Sammamish; daughter Kashia Jones of Tacoma; and two grandchildren.

Mr. Hill requested that no funeral service be held.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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