Olly Wilson grew up in St. Louis surrounded by jazz, blues, gospel, popular and classical music. By the time he turned 15, he earned money as a jazz and rhythm and blues musician, backing up legends like Chuck Berry. Wilson went on to become a pioneer in electronic music and to share his love for music with thousands of UC Berkeley students and colleagues during his campus tenure as a professor and chair of the music department. He died Tuesday at the age of 80.
“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 UC Berkeley 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.”
Wilson colleague Michael Senturia, who conducted the University Symphony Orchestra from 1962-1992, called Wilson “a model for all around excellence” and said he “never met anyone close to his unique combination of compositional, musicological and administrative skills.”
A memorial service will take place on Friday, March 30, at 2 p.m. at the Claremont Hotel. Check music.berkeley.edu and the music events calendar for more information on arrangements as it becomes available.