(Pub. Note: To avoid confusion, we’d like to clarify that until recently there have been two Keith Warnicks recognized publicly in Ferndale. Mr. Warnick, the former President of the school board, is very much alive and with us.)
The city of Ferndale lost its beloved “music man” this past January when Keith J. Warnick, long-time Ferndale musician and teacher, passed on in his apartment home at Withington and Planavon at the age of 64 after a battle with terminal cancer.
Born May 9, 1948, Keith became an important figure in the Metro-Detroit jazz scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and was an influential and beloved teacher to the many who studied under him. Later in life, he became a fixture in downtown Ferndale, often found with his guitar in hand. He offered much to the surrounding community through his creative nature, genuine courtesy, unique sense of humor, kind thoughtfulness, and extreme passion for knowledge and study.
Warnick’s many accomplishments include serving as the jazz guitarist for Michigan State’s orchestra and jazz ensembles, contracted teacher with Southfield Public Schools, and private teacher for a variety of subjects including magic, music, and business. He is also noted for being a wonderful brother to his sisters and brother, a loving son to his father and mother, and a true friend to the many who knew him.
“Keith was as fine a person anyone would ever want to know,” said A.J. O’Neil, the past owner of A.J.’s Cafe. Keith was often found on A.J.‘s patio playing his guitar or giving a lesson in one of its booths. “He always took time to pen well-wishes on a piece of scratch paper,” said O’Neil, commenting on the kind notes and letters Keith would write to his mother when she became ill. “He is truly a character who made Ferndale a special place to live in or visit,” said O’Neil.
Patrick of Professional Guitars on W. Nine Mile knew Keith for the past 30 years. To him, Keith was a teacher, fellowmusician, and a friend. Although their relationship began around music, to Patrick, Keith was much more than a musician. “Keith identified himself as a teacher, and being a philosopher was a big part of his personality. Keith had a certain way of thinking about things, and you could learn a lot from him.”
Musically speaking, Patrick saw Keith as having almost everything it took to be a big player in his day. “He was very talented early on,” Patrick said. “He had almost everything one needs to be successful in the music world. But the one key essential element he didn’t have was luck.” Keith struggled with mental illness that affected many aspects of his professional and personal life. However, those struggles that Keith endured from an early age were a significant part of who he was. “Keith didn’t ask for his mental illness,” Patrick said, “He struggled very heroically to maintain dignity and intelligence through it all. He was a lovely man.”
Other fellow musicians remember Keith as not just a great player, but someone who loved to help others discover their musical soul. “He stood for music, and all the hard work behind it. Keith is the best teacher I ever had,” said Tara Corrado, a Detroit jazz musician and student of Keith’s over the past ten years. “He was very uplifting and made me feel important in many ways especially in the world of music.” Steve Shepard, a Ferndale musician and physicist, echoes the same sentiment. “Keith loved to discuss the guitar, its history and its possibilities,” Shepard said of Warnick’s “encyclopedic” knowledge of jazz guitar history: “He took a great deal of pride in the many students he mentored over the years. He influenced a whole generation of local players who knew him. He certainly influenced me.”
Mickey Stein, another prominent Detroit jazz musician, considered Warnick an “authority in authenticity” in jazz guitar. Stein is one of dozens of musicians who Keith helped find their musical path. “He was very encouraging and invited me over to his house, so of course I immediately got his address and phone and set up a date for the get-together,” Stein said. “It was the start of a big and important phase in my life and almost entirely due to Keith.”
Keith Warnick will be remembered for his encouragement, extreme generosity, and for his talent, passion, and love for music. While the beautiful music and kind nature Keith brought to this world will be missed, may his music and teachings that he so passionately and generously shared live on in all of those that knew and loved him.
A memorial will be held in Keith’s honor on the 25th of July. For more information please contact his sister Sally Warnick (575-776-7832) who remembers and appreciates her brother’s sense of humor, his brilliance, and deep belief in her no matter what.
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