Today could have been a day of mourning, but one of Central Virginia’s foremost musical families wants it to be a celebration.

Today is the birthday of local musician R.S. Hornsby, part of Charlottesville’s first family of tunes that includes uncles Bruce Hornsby and Jonathan Hornsby.

This birthday, his 29th, would have been a day of celebration, but life is unfair and death more so. On Jan. 15, R.S. Hornsby’s vehicle ran into a tree near Crozet and Mr. Hornsby was killed.

The Hornsbys hope people will think about the man, not the loss.

A celebration of life

“Now is a time not to gratify the theft of death, but to celebrate the joy of life,” family members said on Mr. Hornsby’s Web site, “We have been inundated with kind words, surrounded by love, and continue to share a wealth of small, beautiful and sad miracles with the worldwide family of friends that care for R.S.”

“You really have no choice but to look at it that way. Otherwise, the tragedy would be overwhelming,” Bruce Hornsby said before his Friday night concert in Vancouver. “The band always loved it when R.S. played with us. He brought an added quality, a new dimension to the band.”

Robert S. Hornsby was born Jan. 24, 1980, to Robert “Bobby” and Ann Hornsby, local musicians who were part of the Octane Kids band back in the 1970s that started Bruce Hornsby’s career. The couple often played with Bruce’s band and kept involved in music as R.S. grew up. A backstage encounter with head Dead head Jerry Garcia while R.S. was in junior high school fueled his interest in music.

His impact

“He was a beautiful person, beautiful personally and musically and he brightened any place he entered,” Bruce Hornsby said. “Whenever we were near to where he was, he would come and sit in with us. A whole lot of fans would ask, ‘Is R.S. playing tonight?’ They loved what he brought to us.”

Hornsby fans fondly remembered the young guitarist who joined Eric Clapton, Elton John and Sting on Bruce Hornsby’s “Halcyon Days” album.

“R.S. immediately brought his own sound and added greatly to songs far older than he was,” said Simon Twining, who operates, a fan site out of England. “R.S. brought a significant presence with his playing and his character.”

R.S. Hornsby had a sense of humor that filtered into his seriousness about music, his uncle said.

“He loved to play and he took it quite serious, but he was always ready to participate in tomfoolery, chicanery and pranks,” Bruce Hornsby laughed. “He was a joy to have near.”

It’s that joy on which the family is focused today.

“The 24th of January is R.S.’s birthday,” the family wrote on R.S.’s Web site. “If there is a day to celebrate life, let it be that day.”

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