Fatha Hines’ Final Resting Place

Pay your respects to the world’s greatest piano player at Evergreen Cemetery.


Photo by William Gottlieb / Library of Congress

Earl “Fatha” Hines may have won international acclaim with his jubilant bebop piano, but it was a friendly face in East Oakland — from someone who didn’t even know he was famous — that convinced the godfather of jazz piano to choose a peaceful knoll above 64th Avenue for his final resting place.

Hines, whom Count Basie called “the greatest piano player in the world,” is buried at Evergreen Cemetery on Camden Street, in a prominent spot along the main road leading to the cemetery office.

“It’s the perfect place for him,” said Marva Josie, who sang with Hines in the 1960s and ’70s. “He liked being in the center of things. He always wanted to know what was going on.”

Hines was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, but spent much of his life touring with various swing and bebop bands. He played with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and other greats, recording more than 100 records and selling out concert halls across the United States and Europe.

In the 1950s, he moved to San Francisco to start a new jazz band, and at some point in the ’60s moved to the Trestle Glen neighborhood in Oakland with his wife and daughters, according to San Francisco: The Musical History Tour by Joel Selvin.

When Hines was in his 70s, he began shopping around for grave plots. He and his wife were divorced, and his daughters had passed away, so it was a quest he made alone.

“I guess he wasn’t treated well at other places he visited. But then he came here and he struck up an instant friendship with Martin Dean, who worked here at the time,” said Buck Kamphausen, Evergreen’s longtime owner. “Martin didn’t even know who he was. But I think Hines was very taken with him.”

Once Dean learned whom had just sold a plot to, he called his boss, ecstatic.

“We were very proud that he selected us, that he thought enough of us to make that kind of commitment,” Kamphausen said. “I think he also must have liked the view, up there on the little ridge.”

Hines is not the only celebrity associated with Evergreen. Huey Newton was cremated there, several Hell’s Angels are buried there, and 412 victims of the Jonestown mass suicide are buried in a mass grave at the secluded eastern edge of the property.

Kamphausen said not many people come to visit Hines, who died in 1983. “Well, it was almost 40 years ago,” he said. “That’s a long time.”

Marva Josie, who now lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, remembers Hines as warm, charming and thoroughly professional. She auditioned for his band when she was in her early 20s and living in New York and was so excited to get the job. “I was shaking all over,” she said.

“He was a wonderful boss,” she said. “He was very kind, very giving. He gave young musicians a chance. The longer you worked for him, the better you got. … For a young musician, working for him was just about the best thing that could happen to you.”

Besides his permanent home at Evergreen, Hines left another gift to the East Bay: a bequest to a UC Berkeley’s Young Musicians Program, which provides free music instruction to talented, low-income students in grades four to 12. He also left his archives, recordings, and compositions to UC Berkeley’s Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, to help launch the new Archive of African American Music. Executors of Hines’ estate made the bequest in 2009.

“These materials not only document the career of a jazz pioneer, but they also illuminate decades of musical life in the Bay Area,” John Shepard, head librarian at the music library, said at the time of the donation.

In 1999, Hines’ executors also auctioned a rare Steinway piano that Hines had owned, with the proceeds going toward the Young Musicians Program. In all, Hines left hundreds of thousands of dollars to foster music education among low-income young people. Saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Benny Green, and drummer Will Kennedy are among the program’s alumni, according to UC Berkeley. 

Those wishing to pay their respects can find Hines’ grave marker along the cemetery’s main road, on the left not far from the entrance. It reads “Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Dec. 28, 1905 – Apr. 23, 1983, ‘Piano Man,’ He enriched the world with his music.”

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