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Memorial for Jimmy H Binkley

Born in On the Westside of Chicago on Mar. 1, 1923
Departed on Jan. 26, 2015 and resided in Peoria, IL.
Service: Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015
3:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Jimmy H Binkley
PEORIA – James H. "Jimmy" Binkley, 91, of Peoria, died at 2:22 PM, Monday, January 26, 2015, at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

Jimmy was born on March 1, 1923, on the Westside of Chicago, IL to Carol and Mary Binkley. He married Sandra S. Hatfield on November 26, 1979, in Springfield, IL, she survives.

Jimmy also leaves behind his son, Jimmy Binkley, Jr. of Chicago, his step-daughters, DaVonne "Devo" (Brett) Pierce of East Peoria, Dianne "Bunny" (fiance, Ty Harbourn) Knollenberg of Morton, and Debbie (Joey Marsh) Wennmacher of Kewanee, a step-son, Darren (Kim) Wennmacher of Michigan, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.

He is preceded in death by his parents, and sister, Carliss.

A native of Chicago, Binkley started playing professionally at age 17, with a jazz combo called Jimmy Binkley & The Blue Notes. They recorded several records, but made a living mostly by barnstorming through small clubs in the Midwest. During that time, he played with jazz and blue luminaries, including Cab Calloway and Etta James.

Eventually, the group took a regular gig at Collins Corner, a rip-snorting club near Downtown Peoria. Over time, the owner could no longer afford the quarter. The members all retreated to Chicago, except Binkley, who stuck around for good.

He became a fixture at Jumer's Castle Lodge, then moved on to other spots before settling in at the Sky Harbor several years ago. There, in 2010, he was honored with "Happy Jimmy Binkley Day: A Musical Tribute to Peoria's Legendary Jazzman." The public party included proclamations from the City of West Peoria and the Peoria County Board, honoring him for his career, especially his service to nursing homes.
About 30 years ago, a friend asked Binkley to visit the friend's mom — a big jazz fan too frail to leave her nursing home. Binkley agreed, bringing along his portable keyboard and playing for the entire nursing home. The crowd, many unaccustomed to seeing any visitors, adored the throwback music and the beguiling Binkley.

"I enjoyed doing that," Binkley once recalled. "They ain't never had nothing like that. So I said, 'Let's do another.'"

His encore would span three decades. He'd play several nursing homes a week, usually for little more than gas money. He also hosted two parties a year — Senior Citizen Day in June, Christmas for Seniors in December — for hundreds of nursing-home residents, each getting lunch, music and gifts, provided by an army of helpers and donors coordinated by Binkley and his wife. In 2014, Jimmy was the first African American in 125 years to be the Grand Marshall in the Peoria Santa Claus Parade.

The June parties were held for more than 20 years at the Peoria County Courthouse plaza. However, after the 2007 event, when he became overheated and crashed to the pavement, he moved that party indoors. In recent years, for health reasons, he occasionally would cancel a party here and there; the last one was held at Christmas 2013. But he continued with his nursing home visits through 2014.

"He is a blessing to Peoria," one of his longtime Sky Harbor fans gushed a few years back. "He is an absolute blessing."

Binkley acknowledged the demands of his hectic schedule. But even when sick, he often would play.
"The main thing is, make the people happy," he once said, grinning big. "Make 'em happy."

A celebration of life service will take place from 3 to 6 PM on Sunday, February, 8, 2015 at Sky Harbor Steak House in Peoria. Cremation rites have been accorded. Arrangements have been entrusted to The Wilton Mortuary in Peoria.

*Excerpts taken from 01/27/2015 edition of Peoria Journal Star written by Phil Luciano.

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