Legendary Elkhart musical instrument manufacturer dies

Daniel Henkin, who was well known in the musical instrument business, died Thursday evening.

Posted on Nov. 11, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Nov. 11, 2012 at 7:32 a.m.

ELKHART — Music was in Daniel Henkin's heart from the first time he picked up a clarinet at 6 years old until he died at 82.

Henkin, who revived the musical instrument industry in Elkhart, died Thursday evening, leaving a legacy of creativity and love for music among friends and family.

“He was an imaginative person,” said Hisako “Mary” Henkin, his wife of 55 years. “He could create things from nothing. Just every day, he was making something, making music, writing. He loved life. He was a very, very good man — a very smart guy. Everybody said he was a genius.”

Henkin's passion for music blossomed in 1945 at the ripe age of 15 when he joined the Kansas City Philharmonic, becoming the youngest clarinet player in a major U.S. symphony. After World War II, he was the band director for the U.S. Army Air Forces in Hawaii.

In 1969, Henkin started working as advertising manager at C.G. Conn, a large band instrument producer in Elkhart. He left the company to purchase K.G. Gemeinhardt, a company that made flutes in Elkhart. That was his first venture into the musical instrument business but not his last.

“At the time, C.G. Conn had gradually left Elkhart,” said Robert Smith, a close friend and neighbor of Henkin. “They relocated one plant here and another plant there.”

Elkhart had been known as the “band instrument capital of the world” and was in danger of losing that title, Smith said. Henkin saw this happening and bought C.G. Conn with the intention of moving its headquarters back to Elkhart, and in 1981, he did just that. Henkin bought the company and more than a dozen other instrument manufacturers.

“In the history of the musical instrument business, he's a major figure as far as how he structured his businesses, the way they changed, the way they sold to people, the way they set up and educated kids and started band programs around the United States in support of him.” said Chris Blackwood, a family friend whose father worked with Henkin.

To mark C.G. Conn's homecoming, Henkin hosted a weeklong celebration that featured elaborate parties and special musical guests, including personal friend Doc Severinsen, a jazz trumpeter known for leading the band on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

Henkin enjoyed entertaining friends, especially with live music. Tony Biggs, a former Elkhart Truth publisher, was lucky enough to attend many of the gatherings that Henkin hosted. Biggs met Henkin shortly after moving to Elkhart and they became fast friends. Biggs said Henkin could talk for hours on end about the arts, especially big band jazz.

“You could hold a discussion with Danny on any subject, and it would be a lot of fun,” said Biggs, who now lives in New Mexico but has kept in touch with Henkin since moving to the Southwest.

Blackwood described Henkin as a “legendary character in Elkhart.” Henkin was honored in 2005 when he was inducted into the Elkhart Musical Instrument Manufacturers Historical Museum Hall of Fame.

“Danny was a dreamer,” he explained. “He had no fear of trying new things, and he didn't really care what other people thought about it. He just wanted to do what made him happy. He's a larger than life person. Everybody I know has a Danny story.”

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