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Olly Wilson, 1937-2018

Olly Wilson

Olly Wilson, an esteemed music professor and composer passed away peacefully on March 12, 2018 in Berkeley, CA.

Wilson was a prominent member of the UC Berkeley Music Department faculty from 1970 to 2002. He was a renowned composer and an indefatigable advocate for diversity in the Arts.

“Olly was very important for the department, for the campus, and for the study of African American music more broadly, in addition to his significant impact as a composer and professor of composition,” said Music Professor Ben Brinner. “Knowing him first as a teacher during my graduate school days, I came to consider him a mentor, a valued colleague, and a friend after I joined the Berkeley faculty.”

A native of  St. Louis, Missouri Wilson showed a keen talent for music at an early age. He attended Washington University earning his B.M. degree in music in 1959. Wilson went on to earn his M.M. degree in music composition in 1960 from the University of Illinois, then onto the University of Iowa to earn his PhD.

Following stints at Florida A&M University and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Wilson joined the UC Berkeley Department of Music in 1970. He served as Chair of the department from 1993-1997.

“Olly was indeed a model for all around excellence; I have never met anyone close to his unique combination of compositional, musicological  and administrative skills,” noted Wilson’s colleague Michael Senturia, who conducted the University Symphony Orchestra from 1962-1992.

A prolific composer, musician, and scholar Wilson was a member of the The American Academy of Arts and Letters and won numerous awards and prizes including two Guggenheim fellowships and the Rome Prize. His establishment of the TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) program at Oberlin Conservatory was a pioneering accomplishment as the first-ever conservatory program in electronic music. A profoundly skilled composer, Wilson’s pieces spanned from electronic music to works for chamber ensembles and orchestra. He was commissioned by Black Music Repertory Ensemble, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and Boston Musica Viva.

A viewing has been scheduled at Fouché’s Hudson Funeral Home in Oakland on 3/29 from 7-9pm, and memorial service will take place on Friday, 3/30 at the Claremont Hotel at 2pm.


New York Times: Olly Wilson, 80, Dies; Composer Meshed African and Western Music

-Alex Coughlin, UC Berkeley Department of Music