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Shelbyville lost a music icon Wednesday, when Gene Hall, the teacher of scores of Shelby Countians, died Wednesday at Jewish Hospital. He was 71.
Hall had been a teacher at Finchville Elementary School and was the owner-operator of the Observatory of Music on College Street in Shelbyville. He also once had a store on Main Street.
However, he is probably best known in Shelby County for leading the Colonel's Mandolin Band, named after Shelby Countian Colonel Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.
Michael Swigert of Shelbyville was a member of Hall's sixth-grade class at Finchville in the 1960s. He said Hall taught him and several other students to play mandolin. The band also had a bass player.
Colonel Sanders bought mandolins for the children and a van to take them to performances, usually at area churches or nursing homes. They even played in Louisville at a George Wallace presidential campaign stop in 1968.
Hall's wife, Frances, said she has fond memories of her husband's role in the mandolin band. "He had more fun than the kids," she said.
Swigert said he remembered going to a recording studio in Jeffersonville, Ind., to record an album of the songs they had learned. The album cover is a photograph of the band in front of the Colonel's home on U.S. 60.
About 30,000 copies of the album were made and given away at some Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. A copy of the record hangs in the lobby of Claudia Sanders Dinner House. One new copy of the album is listed for sale on the Internet for $187.80.
The Observatory of Music does not advertise, yet Hall still conducted business there and taught music lessons every week. By word of mouth, Hall's reputation as a music teacher always brought him new students.
In recent years, children from the Shelbyville day care, The Wooden Chicken, would walk to the observatory for tonette lessons. The children would then perform at various events at the park or at retirement parties, for example.
Hall had battled with an illness about nine years ago and had recovered, so his death has come as a surprise to those who knew and loved him.
He is survived by his wife, Frances, two sons, John and Todd, and eight grandchildren.
And he is also survived by all those who came to Shelbyville to learn from this iconic music master.
"He enjoyed every minute of time he spent playing music and giving lessons," Todd Hall said.