Cover photo for Bruce McKenzie's Obituary
Bruce McKenzie Profile Photo
1952 Bruce 2023

Bruce McKenzie

October 16, 1952 — October 14, 2023



Bruce McKenzie was born on October 16, 1952 in Burlington, Vermont. He was the youngest of 11, born six months after his father Harold McKenzie‘s death. His mother, Lennie Perry McKenzie raised him and his siblings on Isham Street in Burlington. His eldest siblings, Joe and Thelma were his godparents. At an early age Thelma arranged drum lessons for Bruce. He got to upgrade from his knife and fork tapped out on the dining room table to a trap kit in the attic. He spent many hours honing his skills for the bands he was yet to join. He was recruited to join his first band, The Heartbeats, when its existing members overheard him practicing up in the attic. 


Later, and most notoriously, Bruce formed the N-Zones with Zoot Wilson, Joe Moore, Ellen Powell, Gus Ziesing, and later, Jim McGinniss, Mark Ransom, Trey Keepin, Peter Riley, and Don Sydney. The N-Zones were an institution. They thrilled audiences at countless venues with original blues rock ‘n’ roll numbers,“Boogie ‘Till Your Head Caves In," “Killer Bee Bop,“ and many others all driven by Bruce’s tenacious backbeat.


In 1978 Bruce married another Burlington troubadour, singer-songwriter Mary McGinniss. They welcomed their sons Owen into the world in 1980 and Willy in 1983. Bruce was an attentive and engaged father, who delighted in his relationship with his boys. His marriage to Mary ended in 1993, but they have remained lifelong friends, parents, and grandparents. 


In 1995 he was a founding member of Sambatucada!, an Afro-Brazilian Samba street band. He served as its band leader and Artistic Director for many years, playing for every conceivable community event, from the Discover Jazz Festival to Mardi Gras, to fundraisers for nonprofits serving the poor and disadvantaged. The group's membership is open to all. Every performance concluded with an invitation to join the band. Bruce believed that music was for everyone, including playing it. Over the years, he held percussion workshops in schools and for people with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges. Anyone with a desire to pick up a drum and play. He would often talk about the "omnipotent groove" that resonates with everyone. Bruce remarked that his nearly 30 years with Samba was among the most fun and fulfilling experiences of his creative life. In his tenure it is estimated that over 1000 people have received lessons from Bruce and Sambatucada! members. He was always incredibly generous with his time and encouragement for anyone willing to try their hand at playing.


In 2006, he met his life partner and sweetheart Keiko Kokubun, and their relationship grew and blossomed amid the arrival of his grandchildren Shannon Manchester, and Noah & Colin McKenzie. Bruce and Keiko’s love for one another is fierce.


In 2020, Bruce was diagnosed with cancer. With the aid of Keiko and Dr. Ades’s team at the UVM Medical Center Oncology, he fought a stark diagnosis. Dr. Ades referred to Bruce as one of his miracle patients; his endurance and resolve won him over a year of remission to have more time with his beloved family and friends, with Keiko and his grandchildren, more gigs, holidays, Samba practices, and feasts. His dear friend Mark Ransom, brother Pat McKenzie, and brother-in-law James McGinniss visited him weekly as he recovered from treatments and regained strength. The family is forever grateful for their support and friendship. The family would also like to extend our deepest gratitude to Dr. Ades and his team for the exceptional care they provided Bruce.  


Bruce will be remembered by those who knew him as a bard, a talent, and a true lover of life in all of its trials and joys.


He lost his father before his birth. During his life, he lost his mother, Lennie; his siblings, Thelma & Ray Maple, Joe, Steve, and Bill McKenzie, Judy & Vinnie Ziccolella, and his brother-in-law John Bennett.


He is survived by his love, Keiko Kokubun; his children, Willy Dee McKenzie, Owen & Sarah McKenzie; his grandchildren, Shannon Manchester, and Noah and Colin McKenzie; his siblings, Pat & Ginny McKenzie, Suzie McKenzie, Kay McKenzie, Brian & Anne McKenzie, Dennis & Nora McKenzie, sisters-in-law Kathleen and Pauline McKenzie; his ex-wife Mary McGinniss & her wife Kate Bouton; countless cousins, bandmates, nieces, nephews, students, mentors, and kindred souls.


Our sorrow in Bruce’s passing is eclipsed by his love for us.


In lieu of flowers, please send donations in his name to Sambatucada! (Via Paypal: @Sambavt) or UVM Cancer Research. A memorial visitation will be held in the Minor Funeral Home in Milton, Vermont on October 18, 2023 from 4-6pm.


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