Olly Wilson, an esteemed musicologist and composer who experimented with African styles and electronic instruments within traditional western classical works, has died. He was 80.
A longtime professor at UC Berkeley — and, previously, Oberlin College in Ohio — Wilson was an acclaimed composer who won several awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and the Rome Prize. Besides a notable scholar of African music, Wilson was also an early adopter of electronic music. He opened a studio focused on the burgeoning genre at Oberlin's Conservatory of Music in the 1960s. It would become the Technology in Music and Related Arts program, or TIMARA, the first program of its kind at a conservatory.
“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,” UC Berkeley music professor Ben Brinner told the school's public affairs department.
Born in St. Louis in 1937, Wilson started his music career as pianist, playing jazz and other genres in bars around town as a teenager. At one early gig, Wilson and his bandmates backed a then-unknown Chuck Berry, who was on his way to changing the musical landscape with songs like "Johnny B. Goode."