Robby Steinhardt, former violinist and vocalist with the band Kansas, dies at 71

Tim Hrenchir
Topeka Capital-Journal
Robert E. "Robby" Steinhard, second from the right, violinist and vocalist for the progressive rock band Kansas, died Saturday of complications from pancreatitis.

Robby Steinhardt, a co-founder and former member of the progressive rock group Kansas, which was formed in Topeka, will always be part of the minds, souls and music of that band's current and former members, they said Monday.

Steinhardt, whose classically influenced violin playing set Kansas apart from other rock bands, died Saturday at age 71 at a Tampa, Fla., hospital of complications from pancreatitis.

Steinhardt served as emcee and shared lead singing duties with Steve Walsh while performing for 18 years with Kansas. Current and former members expressed their sorrow in a statement Monday on the band's Facebook site.

"What he brought to us as bandmates, to the fans who attended our concerts, and to the sound of Kansas, will always be heartfelt," they said. "We love him and will miss him always."

Steinhardt's death was announced Monday on her personal Facebook page by his wife, Cindy Steinhardt.

“We are beyond devastated as our lives were about to start a new adventure,” she said.

Robby Steinhardt had recently recorded his first solo album with music producer Michael Franklin at Orlando, Fla.-based Solar Studio and planned to go on tour beginning in August, Cindy Steinhardt said on Facebook.

She said her husband was hospitalized in May with acute pancreatitis, then went into acute septic shock and was placed on life support.

Steinhardt subsequently recovered but recently suffered another sepsis as he was about to be released to a rehabilitation center after a 65-day hospital stay, Cindy Steinhardt said.

Robby Steinhardt was among the original members of Kansas, along with 1967 Topeka West High School graduate Kerry Livgren; 1968 Topeka West grads Rich Williams, Phil Ehart and Dave Hope; and Walsh, who grew up in St. Joseph, Mo. All but Steinhardt survive.

Former Kansas band member Robby Steinhardt, on the right, took part at a fund-raising event in 2016 in Downtown North Topeka's NOTO District with then-Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast, left, and former Kansas member Kerry Livgren, center.

Robby Steinhardt grew up in Lawrence, the son of Milton Steinhardt, who taught music at the University of Kansas.

Still, Steinhardt considered himself to be a Topekan because of the time he spent here whipping Kansas "into shape," he said while taking part in July 2016 at an event in North Topeka's NOTO Arts District.

"There was an inspiration here that I guess nobody really knew," he said. "Kerry did, and the rest of us kind of followed suit."

Robby Steinhardt was originally a member of another Topeka-based progressive rock band called White Clover, which transformed into Kansas in 1973.

Kansas' unique, orchestrally influenced sound made its members rock stars.

They sold more than 15 million records while having seven top 40 hits with songs that included “Dust in the Wind" and “Carry on Wayward Son.”

Steinhardt left Kansas for personal reasons in 1982, subsequently serving as front man for his own band, Steinhardt-Moon, then being a member of the Stormbringer Band.

Steinhardt rejoined Kansas in 1997.

"Welcome, Kansas, and welcome to Kansas," he said at the beginning of the band's 2002 performance before a standing-room-only crowd at the Topeka Performing Arts Center.

Kansas and its audience "rose above the noise and confusion" that day to share a collective memory, The Capital-Journal reported.

The heavy pace of touring prompted Steinhardt to leave the band again in 2006.

Kansas continues to perform, with Williams and Ehart being the only original members who remain. Kansas now makes its home in Atlanta.

Steinhardt suffered a heart attack in 2013.

He joined Kansas for one song during its last concert in July 2016 in Topeka at what is now Stormont Vail Events Center, not playing violin but trading lead singing duties with current Kansas vocalist Ronnie Platt on the band's 1977 song "Sparks of the Tempest."

Cindy Steinhardt encouraged fans to share their memories of his husband on his personal Facebook page.

"Your virtuosity on the violin was the first thing that jumped out at me when I heard Kansas for the first time at age 14," wrote Dutch Dehnert, of Middletown, Penn. "You were a superb vocalist and the greatest Master of Ceremonies in the history of rock music, the Grand Poobah, spinning your violin and whipping that massive mane of hair under the spotlight that shined on you center stage."

Greg Holt, a self-described "fiddler" from St. Petersburg, Fla., who is a member of the International Blues Hall of Fame, wrote: "He was the first mainstream rock fiddle player. Classically trained, he was technically one of the best rock fiddle players. AND he was my neighbor. He had recently started playing out again in small, local venues in Tampa Bay and I was excited to reconnect."