Contra music icon Bob McQuillen dies at 90
PETERBOROUGH — Contra music icon Bob McQuillen died Tuesday at the age of 90, leaving behind a legacy of music and friendships.
McQuillen suffered a massive stroke Sunday night when he was at Brady's Grill in Peterborough for dinner. He was taken to nearby Monadnock Community Hospital first and was then transferred to Catholic Medical Center in Manchester where he passed away Tuesday afternoon, longtime friend and contra dance caller Donald Primrose of Sullivan said Wednesday.
The legendary musician and songwriter was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002. It is the highest award for traditional and folk arts in the U.S. and was the first time an artist from the contra world received the honor.
McQuillen had also served as a Marine in World War II and the police chief of Dublin more than 30 years ago. Aside from his large role in the contra music scene in the Monadnock region and larger folk music scene across the country, McQuillen is also remembered for his decades as a teacher at Peterborough High School, now known as ConVal High School. He taught shop and electricity and was a wrestling coach.
McQuillen was a prolific songwriter, writing about 1,500 tunes. He wrote his first tune in 1973 in honor of Scotty O'Neil, a former student who died tragically.
Monday night the weekly contra dance in Nelson was somber, said Peery.
McQuillen had played the Nelson Monday night contra dance for decades up until a year ago, Primrose said. He was able to attend and play at the Christmas dance in December, he said.
But everyone knew McQuillen would want the music and dancing to continue.
The next day, Peery learned the waltz was also being played in McQuillen's honor at tributes for him across the country.
McQuillen passed surrounded by friends who gathered around him singing and holding hands in a circle with him, Primrose said.