Robby Steinhardt, violinist and co-lead vocalist of the rock outfit Kansas, died Saturday, July 17th. He was 71.
Steinhardt’s wife, Cindy Steinhardt, confirmed his death on Facebook. Cindy said Steinhardt was admitted to the hospital with acute pancreatitis in May. Not long after, he went into acute septic shock and was placed on life support, and although the outlook was “very grave” at the time, he managed to recover. However, several months later, just as he was about to be released from medical care and moved to a rehab center, Steinhardt suffered another sepsis.
“We are beyond devastated as our lives were about to start a new adventure,” Cindy said. “Robby just recorded his first solo album with the talented music producer Michael Franklin at Solar Studios. A tour to start in August, Robby was so looking forward to being back on stage doing what he loved. I’ve always tried to share our lives with you but I ask you to please respect this heavy time of grief. I encourage you to share your stories and pictures of Robby on his page. My only regret is that I can’t share them with him to show him how much he is loved.”
Kansas issued a statement as well, saying, “The members of the band Kansas, past and present, wish to express our deepest sorrow over the death of our bandmate and friend, Robby Steinhardt. Robby will always be in our souls, in our minds, and in our music. What he brought to us as bandmates, to the fans who attended our concerts, and to the sound of Kansas, will always be heartfelt.”
Steinhardt was born May 25th, 1950 in Chicago, and was adopted by his parents, Ilsa and Milton Steinhardt, when he was four days old. One year later, as a biography on Steinhardt’s website notes, the family relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, where Milton worked as a music professor and eventually became the Chairman of the Music History and Literature Department at Kansas University. Steinhardt grew up playing and studying classical violin, but in 1972, he joined a fledgling rock based out of Topeka, then known as White Clover.
White Clover had existed in several forms already, and had even previously used the name Kansas I. At the time Steinhardt joined, the lineup featured Steve Walsh, Phil Ehart, and Rich Williams, while Kerry Livgren joined soon after. Steinhardt shared vocal duties with Walsh, with the pair switching between backup and lead; but it was Steinhardt’s violin that helped distinguish Kansas’ sound from other bands.
In 1973, the band scored a record deal and officially settled on the name Kansas. The following year, they released their self-titled debut, and over the next few years, they developed a dedicated audience through constant touring and several more well-received albums. Kansas’ mainstream breakthrough came in 1976 with Leftoverture, which featured the hit single and future classic rock staple, “Carry on My Wayward Son.” Kansas scored their second major hit the following year with “Dust in the Wind,” which appeared on their album, Point of Know Return.
In a 1992 interview, Livgren offered this assessment of Steinhardt’s contributions to Kansas, saying: “Robby had a totally unique function as a violinist, second vocalist, and MC in a live situation. Robby was the link between the band on the stage and the audience.”
After their Seventies success, Kansas experienced a series of shakeups in the Eighties, first with the departure of Walsh, and then Steinhardt in 1982. Between 1982 and 1997, Steinhardt and Rick Moon played together in the group Steinhardt Moon, while Steinhardt also played with the Stormbringer Band in the Nineties. Steinhardt rejoined Kansas in the late-Nineties but left the group again in 2006.
In 2013, Steinhardt suffered a heart attack, but soon returned to music.