Jack Hannah, Sons of the San Joaquin co-founder and Valley sports legend, dies at 88

·3 min read

Award-winning Western singer-songwriter and Sons of the San Joaquin co-founder Jack Hannah — who also starred in the Valley as a high school player and coach and Fresno State athlete — died Sunday morning at age 88 following a brief illness.

Hannah, whose passing was confirmed by his family in a statement, co-founded the Sons of the San Joaquin in 1987 with his brother and nephew. They traveled globally and put out more than a dozen albums and were known for their songs about the cowboy way of life.

The band, and Hannah himself, won multiple Western music and songwriting awards.

Hannah played football and baseball at Fresno State and went on to pitch seven seasons in professional baseball with the Milwaukee Braves and California Angels organizations. Before that, his Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame biography notes, he “was a pitcher and outfielder and also excelled in football and basketball” at Visalia High.

He was a coach and teacher at Hoover High and then a counselor at Clovis West High School. At Hoover, according to the Fresno Athletic HOF (which inducted him as a coach), he led the Patriots to two Valley championships, was named California High School Coach of the Year in 1980, was selected National Coach of the Year for the Southwest Region and inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame.

His overall coaching record at Hoover was 314-148.

A shoulder injury he said he suffered in football at Fresno State might have cost him a chance at a Major League Baseball career. But he told The Bee’s Bruce Farris in 1998 that it was a critical turning point in his life — for the better.

“My experience at Hoover was like a resurrection,” Hannah said. “Students and athletes had a redeeming quality, and I was hurting emotionally at the time. I always believed God was in control, but we are creatures of emotion.

“I fell in love with the kids and with coaching. Every teacher should be a counselor. You can . . . be an example.”

Hannah was married to his wife, Linda, for 62 years. Together, they had four children and nine grandchildren. He was born in Marshfield, Missouri.

Lon Hannah, Jack Hannah and Joe Hannah, left to right, of the Sons of the San Joaquin perform in May 1998 at the Alta Sierra school gymnasium.
Lon Hannah, Jack Hannah and Joe Hannah, left to right, of the Sons of the San Joaquin perform in May 1998 at the Alta Sierra school gymnasium.

He was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. Sons of the San Joaquin were inducted into the Western Music Association Hall of Fame in 2006. Hannah also won Songwriter of the Year awards and received the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, his family noted.

Jack Hannah, center, speaks of times past in the history of the Sons of the San Joaquin, as Lon Hannah, left, and Joe Hannah look on after their induction into the Clovis Hall of Fame in June 2003.
Jack Hannah, center, speaks of times past in the history of the Sons of the San Joaquin, as Lon Hannah, left, and Joe Hannah look on after their induction into the Clovis Hall of Fame in June 2003.

About the Sons origins, with older brother Joe and Joe’s son, Lonnie, Farris wrote:

He credits his parents for his love of sports. His love for cowboys and Western songs grew from a childhood spent in eastern Tulare County surrounded by some of the largest cattle ranches in the country.

Hannah says the seed for the Sons of the San Joaquin was planted during his father’s 85th birthday party.

“My dad [Lonnie] was a legend in Missouri, a tremendous athlete,” he says. “He was called “Broad.’ He hurt his arm at age 21, but starred in semi-pro ball in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas. He also was a singer.

“Joe and I saw cowboys break horses, work cattle. They lived in bunk houses. We fell in love with the cowboy. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and about then the Sons of the Pioneers became popular.”

In later years, Hannah showed up at Fresno Yosemite International Airport at 6 a.m. to send off each cohort of veterans departing on the Central Valley Honor Flight. He led the group in singing “God Bless America” each time, Fresno State sports announcer Paul Loeffler noted.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

After hearing the news, many local leaders and community members posted online tributes to Hannah.