Radim Zenkl was born in Opava, Czech Republic. He grew up in the town of Ostrava (about 200 miles east of Prague), where his father teaches classical music at the University of Ostrava. Zenkl began his musical studies with piano and singing, then later on classical guitar. In addition to classical music, his early influences were folk music and Czech unique "tramp music". He began playing the mandolin at thirteen.
The discovery of bluegrass music came by listening to records that were smuggled in via those that had escaped from this communist country. The sound of a bluegrass mandolin initiated the spark that launched a decision to play music as a career at the age of seventeen and subsequently led Zenkl beyond bluegrass to an eclectic array of styles. Zenkl's choice of mandolin came as no great joy to his father, who claimed that the instrument had no "real" repertoire, fueling his desire to create one of his own. He started transcribing music from other instruments and later on began composing.
Between 1984 and 1989, Zenkl played in and led several bluegrass bands and also performed as a soloist with the State Opera Orchestra of Ostrava and the Janacek Philharmonic Symphony of Ostrava on several occasions.
In 1987 Zenkl won the Czechoslovak Mandolin Championship. His bluegrass (newgrass) band, Tyrkys, won the national band contest "Porta" in 1988. Besides playing with Tyrkys, Zenkl performed with his new acoustic duo "Mondo Mando" (inspired by the music of David Grisman) all over the country as well as in Poland, Germany and Hungary.
In the spring of 1989 Zenkl recorded his first album, "Mandolin Parade", (also the first mandolin album ever made in Czech Republic), featuring him on ten mandolin family instruments.
Zenkl escaped from Czechoslovakia four months before the fall of communism for political freedom and to be closer to his musical influences. Once in America, he settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. After only a short period of time, Zenkl was performing at major music festivals and sharing the stage with artists such as Jerry Garcia/David Grisman, Tuck & Patti, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, David Grisman Quintet, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tim O'Brien, Peter Rowan, John McCutcheon, Dan Hicks and many others.
In October 1991 Zenkl played for the newly elected president of Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, at a reception on the UCLA campus. Playing his own compositions, Zenkl won the prestigious U.S. Mandolin Championship held in Winfield, Kansas in 1992.
Zenkl went on to record two CDs for David Grisman's record label "Acoustic Disc". "Galactic Mandolin" (1992) is comprised of 13 original solo works, each in a different tuning. "Czech It Out" (1994) features original and Czech and Slovak traditional tunes on solo mandolin, mandocello and mandolin banjo.
On several occasions in 1995 he substituted for Mike Marshall in the classical group Modern Mandolin Quartet.
In the same year, Zenkl signed a recording contract with Shanachie Records and recorded "String & Wings", which was released in 1996. Included in this CD are improvised duets with 20 different artists such as Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, David Grisman, Tony Rice and Rob Wasserman among others, featuring 20 different acoustic string instruments. A new CD entitled "Restless Joy" was released in November 1999.
In the spring of 2003 Radim joined an all star flamenco/classical/world music quartet, the "Festival of Four". The group includes Viviana Guzman on flutes, Richard Patterson on classical guitar and Guillermo Rios on flamenco guitar. Together they released a recording "A World of Music" in 2005.
Currently, Zenkl's touring presents both his solo and duo program with Leo Chern, which includes original and Eastern European music, flavored with string jazz, new age, bluegrass, Irish, flamenco, classical and other styles. These performances feature Zenkl's own innovative playing techniques such as modified "duo-style", which sounds remarkably like two instruments simultaneously. Several mandolin family instruments are used, such as mandola, Irish bouzouki, mando-ukulele, slide mandolin and others. When off the road, he teaches private and group mandolin classes.
Today, Zenkl's virtuosity and innovation have placed him at the forefront of the modern acoustic music scene.