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William Strickland, the celebrated world-music guitarist, radio personality and recording artist whom the Cape Fear area knew best as “Paco,” passed away Monday night after a years-long battle with cancer. He was 60.
Friends and family confirmed his passing Tuesday, said remembrances were being planned, and were quick to cite his nature as a benevolent multi-culturalist whose musical gifts were enriched by his blatant appreciation for the differences that defined individuals.
“For Paco, different is cool,” said “The Night Nurse” Kim McLaughlin-Smith, local reggae radio disc jockey and close friend of Strickland’s since the early 1990s. “He is one of my favorite musicians and one of the best people that I know.”
A note posted on Facebook Tuesday by his longtime girlfriend, Connie Nelson, said Strickland “would want to thank all of you for everything that you did for us and how each of you brought out the best in him. He wants you to remember him playing his guitar and surfing ‘big blue.’”
Nelson said a Facebook page (click here) had been established for friends and admirers to post their condolences, memories and pictures of Strickland.
Wilmingtonians who didn’t know him personally celebrated his fluency with Flamenco guitar, an ornate and effortful style of playing–think Paco De Lucia–considered one of the final frontiers for the stringed instrument. According to his website, pacostrickland.com, Strickland was among a nationally rare crowd of professional-rate Flamenco artists.
In his own, written words, “Flamenco guitar is the last challenge for guitarists. I took up the challenge and have not regretted it.”
Strickland, born in Utah on November 15, 1952, said in a bio that he picked up the guitar in 1964 impressed by George Harrison’s “lead guitarist” credit in the Beatles. A series of virginal rock bands with schoolmates followed, as did a stage of what Strickland described as “nowhere bands,” before his music took on a more professional capacity with traveling rock, reggae and blues acts.
In 1987, he returned a focus to academics, having enrolled at Ohio State University in Columbus. After he earned a degree in education he relocated to North Carolina, in 1990, and before long carved out a groove in Wilmington that would serve him not just locally, but nationally as well.
While his name grew with every live performance, Strickland in 1992 developed what was believed to be the world’s only Flamenco-music radio broadcast, “Flamenco Cafe,” carried across the country by affiliates of National Public Radio and later based on WUIN, Wilmington’s “The Penguin” radio station, part of the Hometown Wilmington Media (HWM) group.
Giving the show a slot on the station didn’t require much thought, considering the Strickland name, his drive and his loud love for music, said Beau Gunn, HWM’s general manager.
“Flamenco Cafe” continued successfully on WUIN weekly until early 2012, when factors related to a devastating diagnosis years prior began to weigh.
In 2008, Strickland learned he had multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow, his condition terminal.
On his personal Facebook page he explained that he’d received a bone-marrow stem-cell transplant in 2009, but to no avail. In the meantime, he wrote, though he was not performing his music, experimental treatments were affording him hope.
“Your prayers are most appreciated, St. Jude and St. Peregrine obliging,” Strickland wrote.
Grateful for Strickland’s contributions to local arts, the community returned support with fundraisers, including 2010′s “Ukeleles for a Cause,” a Penguin-sponsored event facilitated by the North Carolina Ukulele Academy, based in Wilmington.
That raffle of ukuleles–each autographed by famed musicians, including Bob Weir, Michael Franti and Robert Randolph–raised $7,000 to offset Strickland’s mounting medical bills. Gunn recalled that was twice as much money as a similar event raised the year prior, to him an obvious statement of the community’s love for Strickland.
It probably went beyond appreciation for his musical talents, suggested McLaughlin-Smith during her remembrances of Strickland in a phone interview Tuesday–though she did say he could “play a phone book and sound great.”
“He has a capacity for accepting people for who they are and where they are, and allowing people to be whatever that is in his presence and feel validated in whatever that is,” she explained. “He’s certainly going to be himself, and invites you to be. That’s one of a million of his best qualities.”
He was also a fitness aficionado, avid surfer, cycling instructor at the Wilmington YMCA and said he had completed more than 100 marathons and triathlons.
Strickland’s credits additionally included performances at roughly 3,000 weddings–he noted on his pitch that he knew his music by heart, so the event wouldn’t be ruined by a gust of wind blowing sheet music away–as well as 12 independently produced albums whose sales have neared 100,000.
Click here for more information and samples of Strickland’s guitaristry.
Gunn said The Penguin, 98.3 FM, would devote an hour of tribute to Strickland Wednesday at noon.
“Please know that Paco lived and died very much on his own terms–with joy, with impact, with happiness, with strength of will,” wrote Nelson. “Your thoughts, prayers and support are beyond words. The details of the tribute will be announced in the coming days.”