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The Baker Bunch and the healing power of American Folk Music

Every Tuesday after­noon, while the rest of the world seems to be bombarded by sad news and uncertainty the Skilled Nursing Facility at Kane County Hospital in Kanab, Utah is blessed with the healing and uplifting power of great music; the kind of music that beings rejuvenates the soul and tailors im­mense joy to the lives of those it touches. La­dies and Gentlemen, The Baker Bunch.

The Baker Bunch is composed by six very talented musicians. Joyce Rhodes (Piano,) Dave Brady (Mandolin,) Jeanine Baker Johnson (Lloyd’s famous Banjo,) Randy Merrill (Bass,) Nayna Christensen (Mandolin) and Leon Christensen (Guitar.) Photo by Ana Walker.

If you come here around 1:10 p.m. on Tuesdays, you will see a chorus of six earthly angels bring­ing their musical instru­ments, their wholesome beauty, sweet voices and remarkable talent. They are seasoned by life and refined by what they have chosen to do with the talents they have been given by their creator. They have been around many places playing mu­sic that were composed in the heart of the greatest country there will ever be. For that and more will be forever grateful.

The Baker Bunch is an exceptional group of very talented folks and among them is Jeanine Baker Johnson a Kanab English and Arts Teacher as well as a School Counselor and Family and Marriage Therapist. She is the last member of the origi­nal band, that once was formed by her parents Lloyd and Lavona Baker, her three siblings and her­self. A loving family from Glendale, Southern Utah with extraordinary pas­sion for playing American folk music.

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In Jeanine’s sweet and grateful words, music was one the most important things in life for her entire family and “whenever they moved, they always had a band.” Lavona Bak­er, played the piano, ac­cordion and brass instru­ments. “Mom could play pretty much anything and she played by ear… she would listen to a song and she would sit down and just play it.” Jeanine said. Her eyed were tear­ful and her voice tender with sweet memories. “And dad played string instruments. Pretty much any string instrument he could play … that was their love and we had tons of instruments around the house.” She continued ef­fusively.

She paused for a mo­ment, and candidly said “I was forced to play the accordion when I was little, and I hated that. I really rebelled against their [her parents’] music. I didn’t want to be part of that until my parents moved to Kanab.”

When I asked why, she told me that her parents had previously moved to Northern Utah so her dad could go back to school. Jeanine who had a fam­ily of her own stayed in Kanab. The years passed by and after a horrifying accident that burned almost 70 percent of his body, life changed dra­matically for the talented Lloyd and Lavona Baker and when it was time to retire, they decided to move back home to be close to family. At that time Jeanine knew that best way to make her dad happy and strength­en their relationship was through the healing power of his music. So, she asked him to teacher her how to play the banjo. He was so happy that he cried. Jeanine also cried and so did I dear reader.

With the decision to play with him Jeanine helped her dad heal and enjoy his life to the fullest at a period that he really needed. However, what had begun as a temporary situation soon turned into something more per­manent when Jeanine’s mother convinced her to play in a group they had recently organized. As part of their group there were the wonderful Leon and Nayna Christensen, a couple of great musicians who lived in the area and shared similar passion and dedication to playing good music. To this day Leon and Nayna are still part of what we know now as the Baker Bunch.

When Lavona passed away in 2008, the Bakers relied on their music as a healing component to make sense of life without their mom’s irreplaceable presence. Music again carried them through, and Lloyd Baker played in the band for seven more years until he passed away in 2015. New folks joined the band, and they kept playing their won­derful music.

When the Baker chil­dren were looking through their parents’ belongings, Jeanine told them that the only thing she wanted was their dad’s Banjo. That is the same precious Banjo that she carries with her and plays her music to this day. Isn’t it ironic, most reluctant of the Bakers children is the very one who em­braced their music and kept singing and playing their songs? That is how life plays out sometimes, my dear reader. No pun intended.

The miracle of this story is that through tears and smiles, losses and vic­tories, sadness and joy, music often finds a way to bring lives together and reminds us of all of the constant need to keep on living and keep on playing.

Today the Baker Bunch is composed by six very talented musicians:

Joyce Rhodes (Piano,) Dave Brady (Mandolin,) Jeanine Baker Johnson (Lloyd’s famous Banjo,) Randy Merrill (Bass,) Nayna Christensen (Man­dolin,) Leon Christensen (Guitar.) They play here at the Skilled Nursing Facility/SNF on Tuesdays afternoon at 1:30, and at the Beehive care center on Sunday’s afternoons.

The songs in their books were chosen by the resi­dents who live here with us and look forward to seeing them every week. To folks here, the Baker Bunch music is tradi­tion, love, healing and a reminder of a time where life was much simpler, calmer, and happier. It is also a remaining part of the culture and folks who built America. It is also here to let us recon­nect with the essence of what it means to be part of The United States of America, and for all the foreigners such as myself to forever be certain that the greatest gift that this county has to offer to the world is the extraordinary American people.

As the time goes by and the new generations come, we hope that the Baker Bunch will con­tinue to bless many with the healing power of this great American Music.

P.S. Dear Baker Bunch, I have looked for words in the vast English vocabu­lary and I was not able to find any that could fully demonstrate our grati­tude for the gift of your talent and service for us here at the Skilled Nurs­ing Facility. So I decided to say thank you in a few different languages.

We are more that thankful for all of you. Merci, (French,) Danke (German,) Arigato (Japa­nese,) Spasiba (Russian,) Gracias (Spanish,) Ob­rigada (Portuguese.)

“Music can heal the wounds which medicine cannot touch.” – Debasish Mridha

“The true beauty of mu­sic is that it connects peo­ple. It carries a message, and, the musicians, are the messengers.” – Roy Ayers




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