A Celebration Of Life for
Keith Willard Bee
aka Glenn Willard

March 26, 1916 to December 24, 1999

Contributed by Ron Bee. 

On Christmas Eve 1999, Keith Willard Bee, also known as Glenn Willard, closed the curtain on his life's performance. From the many people whose lives he touched, he is now accepting an extended standing ovation. Keith was 83 years young.

Keith Bee was born on March 26, 1916 in Spokane, Washington. His mother, Lois Austin Bee, left the Yukon Territory to give birth to Keith in the United States. His father, Tom Bee, was a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, prospector, and entrepreneur originally from Sheffield, England. Lois Bee hailed from Coeur d'Helene, Idaho. Tom played the piano and Lois played the saxophone for Mountie dances in the Yukon. Keith's dad also ran two trading posts along the Yukon River where he traded furs with the Indians. Keith's mom took the first photographs of the Yukon on record, which now can be found in the Bee family photo collection in the Yukon Gold Rush Museum at Whitehorse.

Tom Bee sold his furs in London. In 1912 he bought a third class ticket for the maiden voyage of the Titanic, which he had to sell because of an important business meeting. Those of us who watched the recent movie, Titanic, also think it may have been possible that Tom lost his ticket in a card game. Whether he sold or lost it, the current Bee family is quite thankful, as there would be no Keith Bee or any Bee offspring had Tom boarded that ship.

Keith started playing the ukulele and the banjo at an early age, practicing for hours in the family bathroom. At age 16, when his family lived in Seattle, he auditioned for and received his first music job on the H.F. Alexander, a cruise ship that steamed between Seattle and San Francisco. When the boat arrived in San Francisco in 1933, both speak-easys and the depression were in full swing. The company that owned the cruise line went bankrupt while the ship was moored near fisherman's wharf. From that time on, Keith made his music, his home, and his family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As a teenager Keith sang ballads in the speak easys of San Francisco, then found mostly right off Union Square. He joined the Local 6 Musicians union in 1933 and still is a card-carrying member. He married and had his first son, Keith Austin Bee, on April 4, 1935 who now lives in Sherman Oaks, California. Keith's first wife died tragically in 1939 of tuberculosis. In the 1930s and early 1940s Keith played in many big bands, including Jess Stafford, Ellis Kimbal, Jay Brower, and Sid Hoff. He sang, played rhythm guitar and tenor saxophone. Keith performed under the stage name, Glenn Willard, a play on Glenn Miller, the famous band leader of the late 1930's.

As a "pre-Pearl Harbor father," Keith did not have to serve early in World War II, instead working by day as a welder first at the Richmond and then Marin shipyards while working full-time with Sid Hoff at the El Patio Ballroom at night. In the later years of the war, however, Uncle Sam needed all able-bodied men to serve, and Keith was drafted into the U.S. Third Army in 1945. He trained as a tank commander under General George S. Patton at Fort Knox, Kentucky and Ford Ord, California, where he was under special orders to lead the first wave of amphibious tanks in the planned invasion of Japan. If you make it to the beach, he was told by his commanders, you are expected to live for about three minutes. Not surprisingly, Keith became a big fan of President Harry Truman, who decided to drop the atomic bomb instead of invading the Japanese islands.

After World War II, Glenn Willard's musical career flourished. He sang on KFRC Radio along side Merv Griffin, and was featured on the nationally broadcast Fitch Bandwagon with Don Ameche. He was also on the staff of KSFO and broadcast several times daily and appeared many times with the Bud Moore orchestra at the Golden Gate Theater. In 1947 when Frank Sinatra sang at the Golden Gate, Glenn was asked to play rhythm guitar in his band eight shows a day for a full week of concerts. He also performed in a cooperative combo called The Noteables in which all members sang and played instruments. This group broke new ground, and was considered very modern for its era like the group The Four Freshmen but before the Four Freshmen. While with The Noteables, Keith worked at the Trocadero, known as "the Troc," on Geary Street. Keith met his current wife, Ginny Bee, at the Troc, who has been his loving wife and partner for 47 years.

Keith was a well-known singer on the west coast because of his many radio broadcasts, from KSFO during the week, national KFRC broadcasts, and from his concerts with Sid Hoff every night that were simulcast remote from the El Patio Ballroom. His agent was Sue Curtis, Alan Ladd's wife, a top agent of her day. Keith's children later enjoyed listening to 78rpm cuts from his radio programs, and one in particular called "Stars in the Making," a program run for many years by Edna Fisher.

In 1949, Sid Hoff asked Keith to play in his orchestra for the summer at Camp Curry, Yosemite National Park. This would start a 20-year career with the Yosemite Park and Curry Company that subsequently hired Keith as the summer entertainment director. Keith and Ginny put on shows in Yosemite Valley at Camp Curry (now Curry Village), Yosemite Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, and the Ahwahnee Hotel. Keith drew on his contacts in the music business to furnish family-oriented variety shows. His family enjoyed living in the tents, then a trailer during many summers in Yosemite Valley-- hardly a better place on earth can be found for kids to grow up. He also drew on talent from the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, where he conducted the chorus, entertained, and produced shows for over forty years. Among those who got their start in Yosemite were Frank Oz, the puppeteer and now producer, whose family, the Oznowichs, performed for many years under Keith and Ginny's direction. While in Yosemite, Keith and Ginny initiated an all-employee chorus called "The Valley Singers" who typically performed at the Ahwahnee hotel toward the end of the summer.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy came to the Ahwahnee hotel during the summer and Keith was asked to sing for the President during a nightly event called the firefall. The firefall was a bonfire of red fir bark that was pushed with a rake over the cliff every night at Glacier Point, falling to a ledge some 1500 feet below. The effect, against the backdrop of granite cliffs and starlit skies, was a "waterfall of fire" that entranced park visitors so much that the overcrowding of Yosemite Valley was in part blamed on the firefall. Deemed "unnatural to park surroundings" both the firefall and the nightly entertainment ended in 1968. Keith and Ginny were recently interviewed about the firefall for the television program, "California's Gold."

While pursuing his musical career, Keith went to school at night to gain his high school diploma and his bachelors and masters degrees from San Francisco State University. He wrote his masters thesis about the Valley Singers, his musical innovation underway in Yosemite. He then took classes toward a doctorate at UC Berkeley. He taught music, orchestra, marching band, and jazz band at De Anza High School in El Sobrante for over twenty years. One of the many highlights of this period was when his marching band was accepted to participate in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses ("Rose Parade") of 1965. While at De Anza, and later at Pinole High School, Keith initiated a set of guitar courses which led to the creation of a unique orchestra of guitars which later became known as a "guitar ensemble." Using the classical technique, Keith taught students how to read and play classical, folk, and jazz guitar. The end purpose of this training was always a public performance, usually together with a nationally renowned guitarist once again drawn on from Keith's many contacts in the music business.

When Keith's high school music education career ended, he described it wryly as "not retiring from high school teaching, but rather graduating to community college." For the last seventeen years, Keith has taught beginning and advanced guitar at the Diablo Valley Community College (DVC). The techniques he developed in high school were applied to community college with great success. The DVC Guitar Ensemble has performed at least twice a year during this 17-year stint, and, we hasten to add, to sold-out houses. The guitar ensemble has been featured with such artists as Laurindo Almeida, Charlie Byrd, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, George van Epps, Ron Eschete, Howard Alden, and Frank Vignola.

Keith has two siblings, Austin Bee, who lives in East Sound, Washington (Orcas Island), and Shirley Boren, who resides in Springfield, Oregon. He is survived by his beloved wife, Virginia C. Bee, and three children, all of whom are proud of their parents' accomplishments: Keith Austin Bee, a mortgage banker and accomplished alto saxophonist, who lives in Sherman Oaks, California; Ronald Bee, an author and senior analyst at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, UC San Diego; and Terry Bee, co-owner of Blue Streak Piano Moving Company, located in Sugarland, Texas. Keith and Ginny have six grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. They have lived in Danville since 1965.

In all walks of life he chose, Keith touched many lives. He considered Your success as his success, too. Whether on radio, on stage, in the classroom, or in person, his infectious smile, boundless enthusiasm, and wry sense of humor always left its mark. That mark lives on in the people who were privileged to know and learn from him. Bravo, Keith, Bravissimo.