Barney Kessel made his 1940s stage debut as a white teenager traveling with otherwise all-black swing bands and his many awards as a jazz guitarist.
Though mostly known for jazz, he also played on tracks by Phil Spector, the Monkees, Julie London, Elvis Presley (“Return to Sender”), and the Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” He can also be heard on Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.”
Gibson guitars made a Barney Kessel model from 1961 to 1973. Pete Townshend of the Who wrote a song about the guitarist in 1975, “To Barney Kessel,” which eventually appeared on the Scoop album of demos and outtakes.
After moving to University Heights in 1989, Kessel was sidelined by a stroke in 1992. He died from a brain tumor at his home on May 6, 2004. His death was reported on ABC News, in the New York Times and elsewhere.
Ten years after his death, Kay guitars was actively reissuing classic Kessel guitars. In 2016, a previously unreleased concert album was issued via Sundazed Records, Live at the Jazz Mill, featuring a newly discovered 1954 performance. Sundazed also reissued a Claudia Thompson disc with Kessell as sole accompanist, Goodbye to Love.