A Giant in African Music Falls

Sometimes a scholar of African music has such a profound effect on the field that when we hear people mention his name, there’s a certain reverence to it.  Sometimes I see a presentation that shows such humble respect for the musicians and such dedication to understanding their artistry that it makes things seem as if they should always be that way.  Every so often, I encounter a scholar of such generosity as to show deep care for a student whom he has only just met.  This past year, that was Dr. Willie O. Anku.

I had the distinct pleasure of presenting a paper on the same panel with Dr. Anku at the 3rd Annual Festival and Symposium, Dialogue in Music Project: Africa Meets North America.  He gave the most inspiring 30-minute breakdown of West-African rhythm that I have ever seen.  Although he’s been studying and writing about this material–what he called “circles and time”–for years, he presented it with almost child-like fascination in an analysis completely devoid of ego.  Following the panel, there was no question he didn’t have time for, and he went out of his way to complement and question my work. As the conference went on, our interactions only became warmer. I had found a fast friend in this brilliant man.  It was truly a privilege to enjoy his company and learn from him.

Dr. Anku earned an M.M.E. from the University of Montana at Missoula in 1976.  In 1983, he founded the African Music & Dance Ensemble at the University of Pittsburgh.  He went on to earn an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1986 and and Ph.D. from the same institution in 1988.  He returned to his native Ghana to teach in and then head the Music Department at the University of Ghana, where he eventually headed the entire School of Performing Arts.  He was also a visiting professor at the Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada (2004), Portland State University (2003), and at California State University-San Marcos between 1994 and 1996.

On January 31, 2010, Dr. Anku was in a serious car accident. No doubt he would have contributed many more years of brilliant scholarship to the study of African music.  Willie Anku died on Monday, February 1, 2010.  I mourn his loss, even as I know the lasting legacy he left for the next generation of African music analysts.  Willie, you will be missed.



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11 responses to “A Giant in African Music Falls

  1. This is such sad news. Dr. Anku was a brilliant and wonderful man. He was our guest at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver a few years ago. One winter day we took a trip up to the mountains, and I remember vividly how delighted he was to be surrounded by deep snow. We will miss him dearly.

  2. I met Professor Anku in the summer of 1999. We had just started a field School in Ghana from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver Canada. I am now the Director of this field school program. Dr. Willie Anku was an innovator in his approach and understanding of Ghanaian and all African music. His analysts of Ghanaian and all African music was completely unique. He will be missed for his academic work and for his passions for music. I will miss my friend.

    God Bless his family, friends, students and colleagues

    Thank You

    Albert St. Albert Smith
    Simon Fraser University
    Contemporary Arts
    Vancouver, Canada

  3. Richard Safo

    In Life I believe nothing happens by accident. I believe that the death of this honorable man was not an accident, but actually, orchestrated. Spiritually, you need an eye opening to see this. Dr. Willie O. Anku was killed out of great envy and jealousy of his foes. {Everything that happens on earth or in heaven is controlled by somebody somewhere by spiritual buttons.”Food for thought”} . Now, woe on him by which the blood of this man was spilled.This was no accident but plain “murder”.He was killed.Watch out, need God,be the light and your light shall shut away all darkness..Its sad ,but we will miss him.

    • For the record: I happen to disagree completely, but I firmly believe in the right to free speech.

      • Richard Safo

        Well, do you really think that the Lord God almighty designed his death to be such …? Just take a minute and think about this carefully.If someone deals with you spiritually to hurt you, how would you see it …? Would you see with your physical eyes, would you …?Unless by the spirit of the Lord, it be revealed to you. Certain things are not accidents.Well, you also have the right to your own opinion.

  4. Harold Richter

    !Oh Doc. as we referred to him was a a giant in African music. I was his student from 1996 – 1999 when he was the head of the music department at the University of Ghana and i was a music student there. During his tenure, he brought positive radical changes to the music department that had a lasting effect on all of his students. He taught us to appreciate African music and give it our best. He imparted so much knowledge to us in all spheres of music. Thank you Prof. Anku, may your soul rest in perfect peace.
    Thank you.
    Harold Richter,

  5. Mike Andeck

    I met Professor Anku in the fall of 2008 while attending university of ghana, legon, as a study abroad experience from California. He was such a joy to be a student of at U of G… RIP Prof. Anku, you will be missed by all of those whose lives you’ve touched, which is surely immeasurable.

  6. David Anku

    Uncle may your soul rest in perfect peace…

  7. George Mude

    Prof. Anku was a great soul. Affable, caring, sharing, loving. He shared all he had with all. He is unforgettable.

    • Mike Fisher

      I had the fortune of learning from Dr. Anku in ’01 in an exchange program from the US. So sad to hear he has passed. RIP Willie Anku.

  8. Sayoma

    Oh! so shocking to hear this sad news…Doc was a wonderful, caring and loving person. I hope his family finds strenght in the Lord.May He Rest In Peace.

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