Olly Wilson

2015 Honorary Member

Olly WilsonOlly Wilson (1937–2018) was a composer, conductor, performer, and scholar who integrated African and African American musical styles into his compositions. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music from Washington University in his hometown of St. Louis, his master’s in music composition from University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and his doctorate in music composition from the University of Iowa.

He taught at Florida A&M University from 1960 to 1965 and then joined Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music faculty. There he created a course in African American music and established an electronic music studio – the first ever program in electronic music at a music conservatory – in addition to teaching theory and composition.

In 1970 he joined the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, where he taught until 2002 while also serving as a tireless advocate for diversity in the arts. While there he received a Guggenheim grant to study music in Ghana. This inspired an orchestral piece titled Shango Memory, in celebration of the Nigerian deity, and an influential article on the ways in which the cultural memory of African ideas were reflected in music by African Americans.

Wilson was a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and was the recipient of two Guggenheims as well as the Rome Prize. His many commissions and compositions included electronic, symphonic, and chamber works.