Don Palmer – La Crescenta, CA May 20, 1930-March 22, 2009
On Sunday, March 22, 2009, Don Palmer (violinist, conductor, composer, loving father and grandfather) died peacefully at home. He took the 11:15 p.m. “A-Train” to heaven to join the one and only love of his life, his wife Rita, who passed on in 1994.
Don was born on May 20, 1930 in Detroit, Michigan. He developed a passion for music early in his life, and took up playing the violin at age five. Though proficient in many instruments, the violin is the instrument for which he will best be remembered.
His passion for music lit the way for an incredible life of love and song. In 1948, Don the bass player fell in love with vocalist Rita Swaney aboard the Put-in-Bay Boat, a Great Lakes cruise boat with a live swing band. The two were married on September 17, 1949 at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in New York, NY. The two moved to Royal Oak, Michigan where they raised their seven children. Don achieved his Masters degree from Wayne State University in 1964, while also on-staff in the WXYZ TV House Orchestra.
In addition to teaching at several schools in the Detroit area, he was a pillar in the Detroit Jazz world; arranging music, conducting his own big band orchestras, composing, and performing in a variety of venues in and around Detroit. Most notably was his tenure with the Matt Michaels Trio, featuring Matt, Don and Jack Brokensha. Don also performed with many musical greats such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett and Luciano Pavarotti, just to name a few.
In 1976, Don made the life-changing decision to move his family to the Los Angeles area. Don quickly became known as one of the premier violinists in Southern California, and played on numerous television series, concerts and movie scores. (Notable is his 19-year affiliation with the orchestra for the Simpsons TV Show.) He continued performing through January, when his illness became critical.
Don received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Wayne State University in 2002, and was recognized for his artistic achievements and dedication to the arts. His contributions to the field of Music and Jazz studies have been recognized by Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George W. Bush.
Don is survived by his seven children: Jay, Nancy, Janelle, Daniel, Thomas, Christopher and Maria, along with fifteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“It was a thing called harmony, the essence of which became the defining credo with which he lived by. All who knew him or came in contact with him were touched by his genuine outgoing and positive demeanor. That quest for harmony transcended many relationship and musical boundaries. Our Dad, father of seven and grandfather of many more, was an example of genuine strength and class. He led his offspring to love and respect one another. To endeavor to pass this on to our future generations was clearly his ultimate goal in life. We are forever grateful for his leadership, loyalty and love,” said son Jay Palmer.
Viewing and memorial services are Wednesday, March 25 from 5 – 10 p.m. with the memorial service starting at 7 p.m. at Forest Lawn in Glendale. On Thursday, March 26 at 10 a.m., a funeral mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church (www.holyredeemer-montrose.org) in Montrose will be held. A burial service will follow immediately at San Fernando Mission Cemetery (www.archdiocese.la/directories/cemeteries).