Bobby Ingram, the folk and folk-rock troubadour who helped establish Coconut Grove’s dynamic 1960s music scene and became its last practicing exemplar with a late-career renaissance, has died.
Ingram, 81, had been in failing health since suffering a heart attack at the end of 2017 and recently falling at his beloved South Grove cottage, which he jokingly referred to as a “national termite preserve.” He died Monday at home, daughter and singing partner Bryn Ingram said.
“He fought hard,” Bryn Ingram said. “He really tried to rally back.”
Though growing frail and losing his eyesight, Ingram in his final months retained his characteristic spark, cutting wit and knack for spinning yarns. He would still occasionally venture out to hear live music and, when strength allowed, to play his guitar and sing. Ingram’s final public performance was an impromptu, drop-in appearance at Shore to Door Seafood in the West Grove in April.
A memorial service and celebration of life is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coconut Grove.
“My father was larger than life, and he will deserve a larger-than-life celebration of life,” Bryn Ingram said. “He was such an icon in Coconut Grove. I truly feel the last of the old Grove passing with him.”
After a two-decade span in which he performed only sporadically, Ingram renewed his musical career in 2015 with the recording of his one and only album, “Postcards from Coconut Grove,” on indie folk label Kingswood Records.
The album featured backing vocals on three tunes by near-lifelong friend and one-time bandmate David Crosby, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer for whom the slightly older Ingram was an early mentor. The album release concert was a packed, rollicking affair at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, a favorite of Ingram’s, who was also a Navy veteran and an expert seaman and sailor.
For the past few years, Ingram was a regular drop-in at the few remaining Grove venues with live music, playing with a young crew of Americana musicians out of the University of Miami, or doing sets with longtime musical partner Kevin Hurley at one of his gigs. Though he wrote some songs, Ingram was best known as an interpreter of others’ tunes, from ballads to rockers.
With his ever-present Panama hat, and often astride a bicycle, Ingram was a revered figure in the Grove not just for his musical gifts, but also as a living symbol of the village’s Bohemian heyday in the ‘60s.
He was a longtime campaigner against dolphin captivity, along with his wife Gay, who died in 2012, and old friend Ric O’Barry. Ingram was also an advocate for preservation in the rapidly changing Grove. Most recently, Ingram spoke publicly and passionately in support of saving the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse in its entirety, and against a Miami-Dade County plan that would replace its auditorium with a new stand-alone theater.
In one of his last appearances in public, Ingram heard Crosby play in May at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse, where he hung out backstage with his friend for the final time. Crosby, who referred to Ingram as “my oldest friend,” called out a welcome during the show to his buddy, on whose sofa he said he spent many a night.
Ingram and Crosby, co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby Stills and Nash, met in the Grove in the early 1960s, paired up as a duo and then toured nationally as part of folk group Les Baxter’s Balladeers. When the group broke up, Crosby stayed in California, where he joined the Byrds, and Ingram came home to the Grove, where he started a family.
After Crosby was fired from the Byrds in 1967, he returned to the Grove. Crosby has said Ingram introduced him to Joni Mitchell, then an unknown performing in a coffeehouse on Grand Avenue. An infatuated Crosby took Mitchell back to Los Angeles to launch her recording career.
On Monday, Crosby tweeted: “My oldest friend ... gone this morning. ... Bobbys daughter Bryn was magnificent in how she dealt with it all.”
Crosby’s tweet drew a tweet of sympathy from Byrds co-founder Roger McGuinn, who also knew Ingram.
In the 1970s, Ingram was best known locally for a long-running gig at Monty’s in the Grove. A few times, another old friend, Neil Young, would play with Ingram and his band, incognito, sitting out of the spotlight at the back of the tiki hut that served as performance space.
Aside from a couple of unsuccessful stabs at musically breaking out beyond the Grove, including the recording of a solo major-label album that was never released and a stint with Los Angeles band Gale Garnett and the Gentle Reign that produced a pair of albums, Ingram stayed mostly close to home.
He blamed a lack of burning ambition beyond buying a cottage in Grove and focusing on his family, unlike musical friends who would be gone for weeks or months at a time while touring.
“I wanted to have a great life. Coconut Grove was the place to come to. This was a little village,” Ingram said in a 2015 interview. “It was cheap. It was a matter of finding a cottage, paying the rent and living the life, and that’s what we did.”
He added: “We’re all doing the same thing at different levels of success. I’ve done a lot of Willie Nelson songs. I just don’t have the bus or the money.”
Born in Far Rockaway, New York, Ingram moved to Miami in his early teens with his family. His dad, Edgar, was a professional musician who taught him the ukulele. After graduating from Edison High School, Ingram joined the Navy. He was stationed in Key West and served on a submarine. Later he served as a merchant seaman, departing on voyages in between musical gigs. He once helped Crosby sail his famous boat, the Mayan, purchased in Fort Lauderdale, to California and back.
Inspired by folk musicians he saw in New York City, Ingram settled in the Grove to pursue a musical career and became one of the cornerstones of its scene, performing while opening and managing coffeehouses and working as a local rep for RCA Records.
Ingram also became close to legendary singer-songwriter Fred Neil when he, too, moved into a cottage in the Grove, and later looked after the enigmatic folk musician after he largely withdrew from public life.
Ingram was part of Neil’s all-star Rolling Coconuts Revue band, which played several benefits for O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, including a semi-legendary Tokyo show in 1977. When exceedingly rare video of Neil leading the group during that show, which included Ingram and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, another Grove figure, surfaced on YouTube in 2011, it caused a minor sensation.
As the Grove’s music scene faded, Ingram gamely went to work as a union stagehand, first at Sunrise Musical Theater and later at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. He subsequently ran the auditorium and taught theater tech at Ransom Everglades High School in Coconut Grove, blocks from his house.
It was only after he retired and his wife Gay died that he began performing in public again, Bryn Ingram said.
A key engagement was a series of shows in 2014 marking a 50-year reunion of performers at the former Flick, the Coral Gables coffeehouse near UM — today the Titanic brewpub — where Ingram and Crosby once played as a duo. An Ingram-Hurley showcase led to the long-overdue recording deal.
Aside from his daughter, Ingram is survived by cousin Marion Fogerty, nieces Gail (Mark) Weber, Gabrielle (Andrew) Malone-Robinson, sister-in-law Judy (Lucas) Drew, and nephews Tommy Gannon and Matthew Gannon, among other nieces and nephews to whom he was close, Bryn Ingram said. Bobby Ingram’s son, Liam, died in a car accident in Alaska in 2005.