The Portland music community has seen its overabundance of losses this past year when it comes to iconic musicians in the city. In the past eleven months we witnessed the untimely deaths of Jim Miller and Janice Scroggins, both completely unexpected. Mel Solomon left us in late June after a long time run against diabetes. But personally, it was the loss of Linda Hornbuckle this last month that really struck home. Even though we all knew that she was battling a no-win situation with kidney cancer, I could never imagine Portland not having her with us.
When I began working in the music industry back in the early 80s for the national distributor Lieberman Enterprises, new recordings were flying through our doors every week that found its way onto the players in the building. We would often head out in the evening to catch performances in the thriving local clubs downtown. Several bands from the area were gaining national attention, such as Nu Shooz, Quarterflash and the Dan Reed Network. Linda and her strong soulful voice played a part with each of those acts as they played around the country. But it was the soul band Body and Soul that really captured Linda in this time period. We knew without a doubt at that time that their featured vocalist Linda Hornbuckle was indeed Soul Sister #1 in a city filled with terrific musicians. If you wanted to get out and dance or just to hear some of those great Motown and soul hits, there was no better band to be found.
A few years later, blues legend Paul deLay began a hiatus from performing courtesy of the Federal Prison system, leaving his band without their vocal leader. Many acts’ members may have moved on in different directions at that time under this type of circumstances, but the band recruited Linda to become their focal point and it was a winning formula. She won her first of three Muddy Awards for best Female Vocalist in 1992 (the others coming in 1994 and 2004)and the band released a superb album titled Soul Diva Meets The Blues Monsters under their new name Linda Hornbuckle & The No DeLay Band. Already a star in the soul and R&B community in town, this collaboration firmly set her footprint in the blues scene as one of its best. And I can remember how proud I was to see her included in an article in Living Blues magazine naming her one of the Top 40 Under 40 in the world of the blues.
Sadly, If there is any one part of Linda’s career that I felt was missing, it was the fact that she was highly under-recorded. Aside from the No DeLay album, she only released two others under her own name, 2001’s Clearly and 2009’s Sista, the latter a beautiful meshing of her voice with the piano of her close and long-time friend Janice Scroggins.
Linda Hornbuckle became a regularly featured performer at many festivals and events over the years. She was featured annually with The Trail Band’s Christmas shows at The Aladdin Theater. She was routinely scheduled to sing the National Anthem every 4th of July at the Waterfront Blues Festival, an event that saw her perform in many of that festival’s best known showcases such as the tributes to Paul deLay and Ray Charles. Yet, it was always her annual “Old Time Gospel Hour” that proved to be the most emotionally moving. Not a big surprise as Linda Hornbuckle was born singing the music of church from a young age in her father Bishop Howard Hornbuckle’s congregation at Portland’s Grace and Truth Pentacostal Church. It obviously was this early training that helped develop her strong and heartfelt voice.
In 2010, she was given the highest honor for a musician in the State of Oregon as she was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. A place she so rightfully deserved.
Diagnosed with cancer in 2012, performances would continue over the next two years, though sometimes those scheduled appearances were missed due to her painful condition. And she continued to book gigs at Jimmy Mak’s and the Doug Fir Lounge for her gospel shows. I spoke with Linda’s husband Mark Young not too long ago one night at Jimmy Mak’s asking how she was feeling. I felt bad as it had been too long since I had made my way to one of her shows and I promised that I would do so as soon as I could. I never got the opportunity and it crushes me for not making it more of a priority. But again, it is the perception I falsely led myself to believe that I could not imagine Linda not being around. The last two times I saw her perform was at Janice Scroggins’ Celebration of Life and the Old Time Gospel Hour at the Waterfront Blues Festival. How I wish there was more. I hear her now in my mind, singing “Natural Woman,” “Georgia” with The Ray Charles Tribute Band, and mostly “Amazing Grace,” nobody could do that hymn like her.
Not having Linda Hornbuckle amongst us is going to take a long time to comprehend. For so many years she has always been there giving her heart and soul to her music. Thank you Linda for all the wonderful memories you gave to us and which will forever be held within our hearts. You certainly made my life better with your songs.