Olly Wilson

Composer Olly Wilson, New York, May 2015

Very sad this morning to learn of the death of OLLY WILSON. Olly was a composer of versatile originality and commitment, and one of the most agreeable and effective colleagues one could have. Olly comported himself with almost regal, diplomatic bearing, assuming with dignity and poise the privileged position he came to occupy by virtue of his talent and multi-faceted achievements.  He didn’t reach privilege easily, as has been recounted in interviews and writings. We saw each other many times: when Olly’s music was performed at Duke University (“Sometimes” for voice and electronics) or by the North Carolina Symphony; in California, and in New York. A long list of achievements will surely be enumerated in obituaries: his compositions, his stewardship of the estate of great jazz musicians like Earl “Fatha” Hines; his scholarship as a composer grappling with ethnomusicology, his work as Vice Chancellor at UC-Berkeley.  I knew of Olly’s artistic work through one of my early teachers, Frederic C. Tillis.  Fred Tillis, T.J. Anderson, and Olly Wilson had been colleagues at the University of Iowa in graduate school. (What a trio!) My colleagues Anthony Kelley and Tom Brothers were Olly’s students at UC Berkeley in the 1990s, and my Duke undergrads have regularly read his scholarship on West African music and its relationship to the African Diaspora.

I discerned and personally witnessed what a fine father and colleague Olly was, and took this as a model.

My condolences to his wife Elouise, and to his family.

May Olly’s memory be a blessing, always.

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