LifeNotes: Revered Vocal Coach Phoebe Binkley Passes

Phoebe Binkley

Phoebe Binkley

Phoebe Binkley, who coached dozens of Nashville superstars and thousands of unknowns for more than 40 years, passed away on May 11 at age 78.

She was officially a vocal coach, but her many clients thought of her as a career counselor, a life advisor, a guidance guru, a confidante and much more. Among her high-profile students were Kathy Mattea, Ronnie Milsap, Hilary Williams, Ronnie Dunn, Ranger Doug Green, Barbara Cloyd and Crystal Gayle.

Binkley also coached Reese Witherspoon in her Oscar-winning performance singing the songs of June Carter in the Johnny Cash bio movie Walk the Line.

The coach was born Phoebe Knox in Memphis in 1937. Her career began as a radio singer-pianist. One early gig was on the Nashville show “Youth on Parade” alongside Pat Boone. She graduated from Vanderbilt University.

She sang as a soprano for several seasons with the St. Louis Municipal Opera, then went to Manhattan to study and perform.

Returning to Music City, she was recruited by Theatre Nashville to sing the lead in its production of La Boheme. The opera’s musical director was Bob Binkley (1934-2012), whom she married in 1960.

She first entered the country music world as a songwriter. Superstar Marty Robbins (1925-1982) recorded a dozen compositions by Bob & Phoebe Binkley in the 1960s and 1970s. Phoebe assumed leadership of Bob’s vocal-coaching business in 1971, when he became more involved in conducting, arranging and music education. She was noted for treating aspiring amateurs with the same care and attention she provided to Nashville’s biggest stars.

She became so well known in her field that she was chosen to appear on TV’s To Tell the Truth (“Will the real Phoebe Binkley please stand up!?”). She also continued to compose. She and her sister-in-law Ella Prince Knox created the musical Belle! Another notable relative was her father, Jack Knox (1910-1985), who was an editorial cartoonist for The Nashville Banner for many years.

Phoebe Knox Binkley died from complications of Post-Poliomyletis Syndrome. She is survived by son Ed Binkley and daughter Carolyn Knox Binkley. Carolyn, a former Belmont University instructor, will continue the family’s Nashville business, “Voice By Binkley.” Other survivors include Phoebe’s brothers Joseph and Britt Knox, her grandchildren, her nieces and her nephews.

A celebration of her life will be held at Vine Street Christian Church on Friday, June 3 at 8 p.m. Everyone is invited to sing in the choir. Come dressed as Binkley would have you, in a way that makes you feel best about yourself.

Memorial contributions may be made in Phoebe Binkley’s name to BrightStone, P.O. Box 682966, Franklin, TN 37068 or to the W.O. Smith Community Music School, P.O. Box 121348, Nashville, TN 37212.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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