Inspiring Okeechobee: Ralph & Grace Baker enjoying life

OKEECHOBEE — It may be hard for some to believe, but Grace Baker was not always a fan of bluegrass music. When she married Ralph, bluegrass was part of the deal. Both of them had lost their spouses and Ralph had been a friend of Grace’s daughter Bev for years, but Grace had never met him. One night, Grace said, Bev called and told her that her friend Ralph was going to be playing bluegrass music and she wanted Grace to go with her and her husband to listen to him play, but Grace said, “I would never listen to bluegrass music. Little did I know, seven years later I would be married to him.”

The next time Bev invited her to go listen to music, Grace decided to go ahead and go even though she wasn’t crazy about the music. This time, Ralph was not playing, he was invited to go with them.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Ralph and Grace Baker — she’s his favorite bass player.

“It was a setup,” said Ralph. When they got there the drummer wasn’t there, though, and Ralph was asked to fill in, so Grace got to hear him play some music after all. Grace said she decided she kind of liked this guy and she knew his birthday was coming up so she told him he could take her out for his birthday.

“She has always been bossy,” said Ralph. Then after telling him he could take her out on his birthday, she ended up being out of town on that day and didn’t make it back in time for their date, but when she got back, they went camping together and about a year later they were married.

Ralph and his family always loved music, and he has played all his life. He started with the drums and bass guitar in honky-tonks and then got into bluegrass with his brothers. That’s when he picked up the banjo, guitar, mandolin and he even plays the piano. He played the drums and the bass guitar for about 15 years in Dayton, Ohio. His older brother played the fiddle and another brother played the guitar and sang. All of his sisters played the guitar and sang. His mother played the piano.

Grace said her background was not as musical, but she did enjoy singing. As a matter of fact she laughed, that was how her kids could find her in the grocery store. When they first got married, Grace decided to learn to play the bass guitar, and it was pretty hard to sing and play at the same time she said. One night Ralph was in the shower while she was practicing and the water shut off. She thought that was a fast shower. All of a sudden he hollered, “For God’s sake would you please play and sing in the same chord?” That is no longer a problem Ralph says. She can do both now, “but her learning took about three years off my life.”

They spent many of their years together traveling the country, including Alaska. They played in all the clubhouses in every park where they stayed. They had a good friend from Arizona, Blakey, who always set it up for them. He would always say, “you want these two to play for you!” They made so many good friends over the years traveling park to park said Grace. About four years ago they made the decision to stop traveling, and now they just take short trips to visit family.

In their travels, they had the opportunity to visit Newfoundland twice. They even got to go to Newfoundland’s very first bluegrass festival. They didn’t play in the festival. They just listened. On one visit, Grace said they saw 30 or 40 whales at one time while sitting out back at a friend’s house. On one of the ferry trips to Newfoundland, Grace said the 100-mile ferry trip was so rough they never even got into the bunks they rented. They started out to Greenland once, but the roads were just too rough so they turned back. They have been to Canada several times, and they played a festival in New York state once.

They are still very active in their church, Buckhead Ridge Baptist Church. Ralph is a deacon, and Grace is choir director.

Ralph and Grace love Okeechobee and the friends they have made here over the years. When they first settled here, they played with a group called Sugarland Grass Band for seven or eight years. Ralph said Keith Bass is a personal friend of his and Keith is maybe a little bit better banjo player than Ralph is, “maybe.”

Ralph taught several young people how to play different instruments over the years, but he has a special place in his heart for Daniel Womble. He said when Daniel was 15 years old he called about banjo lessons, and Ralph said he would charge $20 a lesson. After one lesson he told Daniel he could just come for free, and they became good friends and played together for years.

“We have made some of the best friends over the years, and we are still enjoying our life,” says Grace. They have jam sessions twice a week on Tuesdays at Turtle Cove and on Thursdays at Seminole Cove. Fans of bluegrass are always welcome to come join the fun.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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