Local trumpet player and band leader John Skinner, whose musical career spanned more than 50 years, died Friday in Ohio while attending a music convention. He was 71.
Skinner is best remembered for leading the John Skinner Band that played a broad repertoire of songs and styles for Sacramento audiences. In addition to his musical success, Skinner was a veteran of the Vietnam War and supporter of music education.
Skinner was born Dec. 1, 1945, in Orland and raised by his mother, who gave him his first trumpet. Throughout his childhood, she took Skinner to see famous trumpet players. When he was 11, he saw Rafael Mendez, a famous trumpet soloist, and he was hooked.
“That helped him understand the trumpet as a heavenly means of expression,” said Susan Skinner, his wife. “He played a Mendez trumpet the rest of his life.”
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In high school, Skinner donned his first tuxedo and worked as a band leader at holiday resorts. He continued his trumpet playing at Utah State University, where he became a lead trumpet player as a first-year student.
After graduating, Skinner volunteered for the Air Force during the Vietnam War, where he flew C-141 Starlifters transporting supplies and wounded soldiers.
“It goes without saying that his trumpet went with him everywhere he went,” Susan Skinner said.
He continued to play in bands in Fiji, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong during his time in the Air Force.
Skinner later worked as a freight pilot for Flying Tigers Line, where he would play his trumpet in the cargo hold during his breaks, Susan Skinner said.
When he returned to Sacramento, he founded the John Skinner Band, playing at Gov. Pete Wilson’s birthday parties and entertaining dancers at Town and Country Village throughout the 1980s.
Skinner preferred to lead his band from the ranks, playing with them, Susan Skinner said. “He was such a precise and elegant player that he set the bar high for his musicians.”
Throughout his career, Skinner played trumpet with Ray Charles, Donna Summers, The Temptations, The Brady Bunch and Luciano Pavarotti.
Music was a family affair for the Skinners. His daughter, Kathryn, and Susan would often join Skinner on stage, singing with the band.
After his retirement from Flying Tigers, Skinner invested more of his time in music education, regularly visiting Cazadero Music Camp to support and mentor high school musicians.
“Even when he was not well, he would drive 3 1/2 hours to see high school students play, and he never once came back without saying how wonderful they were,” Susan Skinner said.
At his last concert in Carmichael Park on Aug. 6, Skinner played the trumpet solo from Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” His health had deteriorated to the point where he could not stand on stage anymore, so his wife held the microphone for him as he played from the crowd. People stood up and cried, Susan Skinner said.
“He called himself Johnny Trumpet,” Kathryn Skinner said. “Johnny Trumpet will be missed.”
Skinner is survived by his wife, Susan, and his daughter, Kathryn.
The family will announce details of John Skinner’s memorial service on his Facebook page.