Bob Grimm is proof that it’s never too late to live your dreams.
Grimm, 88, of Rapid City, wanted to be in a band since he was a teenager, and finally, after retiring, he started performing. Now, he has a band that spreads cheer in the Black Hills by entertaining at nursing homes, senior centers and dances.
Grimm started out as an accidental musician. When Grimm was 11, a salesman came to their house selling accordions and a year’s worth of lessons. “My dad was always interested in music. He thought if I would take the lessons, he’d copy them. I wasn’t as interested as he was so I didn’t practice, but I found out I could play by ear. I didn’t like to read notes,” Grimm said.
Grimm gained enough skill as an accordion player to perform for a school Christmas program, and to accompany some carolers. “I always wanted to have a band, even in the 1940s. It was always in my mind,” he said.
Marriage, raising a family and working kept Grimm too busy for music until he retired in 1985. “I got the urge to go back and play,” he said.
He bought a used accordion and began playing songs he remembered from the Saturday night dances he and his wife enjoyed. Though decades had passed, Grimm discovered he could still play by ear.
“Somehow I got invited to play at nursing homes,” said Grimm, who performed solo for a few years.
After his wife died in 2007, Grimm revisited his idea of having a band. He and a friend, Bob Heller, began playing together. “We picked up people here and there. We started playing at nursing homes and dances and stuff,” Grimm said.
Band members have come and gone. The full band currently includes nine musicians, all but one of whom is retired. Heller died of cancer. Grimm’s daughters Linda Carpenter and Connie Hilpert — a nurse who joins in when she can — are the band’s saxophone players. “We harmonize together,” Carpenter said of herself and her sister. “It’s a nice sound when the two of us play.”
Carpenter plays a saxophone her grandfather got in 1927. In addition to herself and her father, the band features bass guitarist Rex Field, pianist Dorothy Whisler, accordionist Judy Nielson, tuba player Linda Diebert, drummer Ed Alexander and violinist Selina Gasseling, all of Rapid City.
“The band is really dedicated,” Grimm said. “It is quite a band to think it just came of the woodwork and it’s all volunteer.”
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The Bob Grimm Band averages 10 to 12 performances a month, including twice-weekly concerts at local nursing homes. Dressed in coordinating black vests, pants and white shirts, each sports a button that says “The Bob Grimm Band.” Grimm and his band don’t charge a fee for any of their performances. “We like to say we work for cookies,” Carpenter said, laughing.
Grimm and Carpenter both sing when the band performs. Grimm sings classics and oldies such as “Toot-Toot-Tootsie” and “Sioux City Sue.” Carpenter encourages singalongs when she sings familiar favorites like “Amazing Grace” and “It’s a Small World.”
Carpenter also handles the administrative side of the band, scheduling practices and performances. She creates a playlist for each performance “so everybody knows what song we’re on,” Carpenter chuckled.
Practices and playlists are important because the band has a repertoire of 150 songs. “We can shift around if we get tired of some,” Grimm said.
Initially, the band started playing songs that were popular in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. They’ve expanded into some tunes from the 1950s and '60s such as “Blue Spanish Eyes.”
“We might have to learn some newer songs, because even people in nursing homes are getting younger and younger,” Grimm said.
Living the dream
On a recent Tuesday afternoon at Golden Living Center Meadowbrook, the Bob Grimm Band treated the center’s residents and some of the staff to a mix of oldies, polkas and gospel tunes. The crowd sat and listened in rapt attention. One woman tapped her fingers through every song. A few sang along quietly to familiar tunes or clapped their hands. Others bobbed their heads to keep time with the polkas.
“Here’s one that reflects all of you people because it’s called 'Baby Face,'” Bob called out as he launched into a rousing rendition of the crowd favorite. After the song, one grinning resident said, “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Gail Millard, a certified nurses assistant at Golden Living Center Meadowbrook, checked on residents during the Bob Grimm Band’s recent performance. Millard has seen Grimm and his band perform several times in Rapid City. “The residents really enjoy him. He plays songs they know,” she said. “I think he’s really good. … He draws a crowd wherever he goes.”
Their audiences aren’t always able to respond to what they hear, but Grimm and his bandmates know their music makes a difference. “Even Alzheimer's patients can snap or sing along,” Carpenter said. “It’s fun to be part of Dad’s dream. He inspires us all.”