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February 2004

Abbie Neal 'aka' Esther Mckinnon
From the Reno Gazette-Journal on-line.

Abbie Neal, 85 years of age, of Reno, NV, died on February 15, 2004 at Manor Care. Her caregiver and friends, Joyce Linscott and Marie Case were by her side.

She is survived by a stepson, Barry McKinnon (Becky) of Washington; 3 step grandchildren; and one great step grandchild; cousins Jerry Neal (Phyllis) of Ohio; and Gilbert Neal (Erin) of New York. She is also survived by several other cousins, nieces and nephews. Her husband Merrill (Mac) McKinnon; parents, Carlton and Amanda Mullins Neal; brothers, Lee, Charles, Walter Gilbert and Richard Neal; and sisters Agnes Zimmerman and Harriet Salsgiver preceded her in death.

Abbie was born in Brookfield, PA on April 4, 1918. She was a National Champion Women's Fiddler and winner on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts program in New York City. She formed Abbie Neal and Her Ranch Girls in the 40's. In the 50's she starred in her own TV shows on WJAC-TV in Johnstown, PA and the Wilkins Easy Credit Show on WDTV in Pittsburgh, PA. She donated time to entertain our troops in Vietnam through the USO tours. She was a multi-instrumentalist, who excelled on the steel guitar and fiddle. She was born with what musicians call a "true pitch ear" - the ability to hear correct notes without reading music, but she did read music. She learned the basics of music from an older brother, Walter, at the age of 7, playing duets with him at churches and Grange Halls. At 10, she was in a fiddle contest and won. She studied violin and as a teenager played with the DuBois Symphony. After 2 years of classical music, the lure of "fiddling" became so strong that she joined Cowboy Phil and his band on radio WHJB in Greensburg and remained for 13 years before landing on TV in Pittsburgh. Abbie was one of the first TV stars in Pittsburgh and also was in demand on the Jamboree USA in Wheeling, W. Virginia. She received a Star in the Walkway of Stars in 1983 for her major contribution to Jamboree USA and country music. Her band also did a stint on WAMO in Johnsville before coming west where she moved on to the Nevada Circuit, performing at Harrah's, the Holiday, Riverside, and the Mapes Hotels in Reno, plus venues in Elko and Las Vegas.

After years of performing, she ended her career at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in 1975. After her retirement, she and several other retired musicians continued to entertain senior citizens at convalescent facilities, hospitals, and senior centers in the Truckee Meadows.

Lou Christie, a performer and star, made this quote: "I think Abbie Neal was a true pioneer in country & western music; a woman who walked the path with the great Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline and Rose Maddox." Abbie was loved by all who knew her and was still in touch with many friends, fans and former members of her group.

A memorial will be held on Tuesday, February 24, 2004, at 11:00 a.m. at the First Congregational Church, 627 Sunnyside Dr., Reno, NV. Rev. Bill Chrystal will be officiating. In lieu of flowers, make contributions to a charity of your choice in Abbie's memory, however, her favorite charity is the "Make A Wish Foundation" for children. Another memorial will be held in Brookfield, PA at a later date.  Arrangements entrusted to Mountain View Mortuary.