Klezmer bassist Matthew Sperry, 34, hit by car

To many, Matthew Sperry was known as a world-class musician. Last year, he appeared on Late Show with David Letterman, along with Tom Waits, and more recently he finished playing bass in the San Francisco production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." But he was equally known for giving the best hugs.

"You meet people like him twice in a lifetime if you're lucky," said Julie Egger, founder of the Red Hot Chachkes, a Bay Area klezmer band that Sperry played with for the past 3-1/2 years.

Sperry, of Oakland, was killed on June 5, struck by a car while he was bicycling on the Oakland-Emeryville border. He was 34.

Sperry was born Nov. 6, 1968, a native of Redondo Beach, and graduated from Florida State University. In Seattle, where he lived for some time, he received an award from the Seattle Arts Commission. He moved to the Bay Area in 1999, and soon after began playing with the Red Hot Chachkes.

Egger said that when he came to audition, "within five minutes we knew he was going to be in the band."

On a memorial Web site, numerous people who knew Sperry remembered him for his radiant joy and for always exuding positive energy.

"It was infectous [sic], and his presence could turn a sour setting around quickly," wrote a fellow musician, Garth Powell.

Sperry and his wife, Stacia Biltekoff, were members of Kehilla Community Synagogue in Berkeley.

In addition to Biltekoff and daughter Lila Simone Sperry of Oakland, Sperry is survived by his mother Harriet Sperry of Colorado Springs, Colo.; father Gilbert Sperry of Baja California, Mexico; brother Sam Sperry of San Diego and sister Estee Smith of Palm Desert.

Donations can be made to a fund for Lila's education. Send checks c/o Michael Chabon, p.o. box 2766, Alcatraz Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."