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Musician celebrates 100 years, hopes for at least 8 more birthdays

SALT LAKE CITY — Lowell Hicks can sometimes be spotted pushing his more-than-100-pound marimba down the street to his next performance.

The former teacher and state bee inspector — who just celebrated his 100th birthday last week — loads and unloads the large percussion instrument into a truck every so often to play at retirement homes all over town, where he can oblige nearly every request from residents, "most of whom are younger than I am," Hicks said.

Occasionally, he'll play piano for them, too.

"I can still play pretty good," the centenarian said, adding that his favorite tune, which won him $200 in a talent contest decades ago, is "My Hero" from the 1908 George Bernard Shaw operetta Chocolate Soldier.

Hicks plays a 200-tune repertoire from memory and he provides entertainment for just about any type of event, as the centenarian is known for his music abilities.

"I've been so busy with music, I didn't have time to do anything else," he jokes. But that's far from true.

While his musical talent has kept him busy — playing for dances, social events, weddings, at KSL NewsRadio and as a member of the Utah Symphony — Hicks also fulfilled a 39-year career as a music teacher in the Jordan School District and served a stint as the state bee inspector. He also served an LDS mission to New Zealand with his wife nearly 30 years ago, among other church callings and hobbies through the years.

Hicks' quick action to pull a fire alarm at West Jordan Junior High School saved 479 students and teachers from possible injury when the roof collapsed in September of 1947. He says it was "tough luck."

"I've had some good years," Hicks said.

Kay Ward, Hicks' oldest daughter, said her father is independent and strong-willed — traits that have served him well through the years. And she believes he's got more years to go.

"He's quite unusual, really," she said, adding that her dad wakes up at the crack of dawn every day and also exercises before bed each night.

Ward said her father has taught her many valuable lessons, among them are principles of frugality and hard work, which he honed throughout the Great Depression and other times throughout his life. He still cooks meals for himself and his wife nearly every day.

Hicks has been married to the same woman for 76 years, has five kids, 29 grandchildren and 58 great-grandchildren. A YouTube video of him playing the "Flight of the Bumblebee" on his marimba has amassed more than 48,600 hits. The video almost landed him a spot on NBC's "America's Got Talent," but Hicks fell and broke his hip before his television debut could come to fruition.

The talented musician also plays the organ and piano, and a metal version of the marimba, the vibraphone. His basement studio is "quite the sight," he said, and he spends at least an hour there every day, sometimes more.

Hicks also loves to garden and said he "can't wait for the nice weather to come again, so I can get back at it again."

He enjoys being outdoors, even if it means tending to other people's gardens, as well.

"He's in good health," Ward said. "He shovels snow, climbs ladders. Even in his 99th year, he was out there tilling my garden and on his knees planting beets. I can hardly get down there to do that."

In addition to serving as the state's bee inspector, Hicks tended 350 hives of his own, producing 40,000 pounds of honey one productive summer. "I had to have something to do," he recalled.

Hicks is bright and healthy and has "a mission" to live at least eight more years, as longevity is "in the genes," he said. His grandmother lived to 108, and his last living sister died this year at 106.

"Music has kept me alive," he said.

But when he isn't playing, Hicks said he abstains from any alcoholic beverages and has never smoked, habits he credits for his good health. But he's also pretty diligent about being healthy.

"Regardless of where I am, I always exercise before bed," Hicks said. "Every health magazine mentions it, so I figure I've got to do it. And I was doing pretty good until I broke my hip. Now I'm walking like an old man."

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