Beloved banjo instructor Osteen passes away at 61

PICKENS — Less than two weeks after a successful benefit concert in his honor, beloved upstate banjo player and teacher Al Osteen died last week following a battle with cancer.
Osteen, 61, died at his home in Landrum.
An all-star cast of bluegrass musicians put on a concert Sunday, Dec. 19, at Pickens High School to benefit Osteen, who in recent years had used his talents to teach area children how to play bluegrass music as part of the Young Appalachian Musicians program.
All proceeds from the concert and a silent auction held the same day went toward Osteen’s medical bills.
A memorial service was held Sunday afternoon at the Chapel at the Cliffs at Glassy off S.C. Highway 11, featuring touching bluegrass performances, including a song from Kristin Scott Benson, one of Osteen’s most successful former students.
Benson, a three-time International Bluegrass Music Association banjo player of the year, also performed at the benefit concert two weeks ago.
“Without Al’s influence, I doubt that I would have become a professional musician,” Benson said prior to the concert. “His impact, personally and musically, is immeasurable.”
Osteen touched many children ranging from third grade through eighth grade in Pickens County through his involvement in the Young Appalachian Musicians program, including Isaac Ferrell, who won first-place at two different national banjo festivals last year.
“If it wasn’t for Al, I probably would not be playing the banjo,” Ferrell said. “Al took time with me; he never got frustrated when I needed help.”
Charles Wood, a nationally known banjo player who also learned many of the tricks of the trade from Osteen, recently said that Osteen’s impact will be remembered for many years to come.
“Al is not only my biggest musical influence, but one of the most influential people in my life overall,” Wood said prior to the benefit concert two weeks ago. “He was one of the first and few highly accomplished Scruggs style five-string banjo players anywhere and learned to play in an era when there were no banjo teachers or instructional material. Al is a much more accomplished musician than and highly spoken of by many legendary players I have met.”
Osteen is survived by his wife, Rebecca Mullinax Osteen, as well as two sons, a daughter, a grandson, a brother and a sister.