Olly Wilson Jr

Born January 1, 1930

Died January 1, 2018

Born in United States

Olly Wilson Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri to a musical family. He grew up playing the piano at home and at church, playing the clarinet in his high school band, and arranging music for his own jazz ensemble! His local community had a thriving music scene, and he was introduced to many different styles of Black American music such as R&B, spirituals, gospels, and blues. These early musical experiences would go on to influence his compositional style throughout his career.

After Brown v Board of Education ruled segregation illegal in 1954, Wilson Jr became one of very few Black American students accepted to study at Washington University. Here, he was introduced to the Western Classical tradition of composition and found inspiration in the works of Stravinsky and Bartók. Like many other composers in his day, he was drawn to Schoenberg’s 12-tonalism and electronic music, and a lot of his works lean into these experimental ideas. Still deeply connected to his roots, Wilson Jr focused his compositions on the fusion between elements of Black American and Western classical music styles.

Academically, Wilson was also interested in the relationship between Black American and African music. He compiled a list of qualities that can be observed throughout most African Diasporic music styles, such as the tendency to incorporate the physical body in performances, call and response segments, and an emphasis on rhythmic playfulness and complexity.