Obituary: Warren Benson (1924-2005)

Warren Benson
Warren Benson

Warren Benson, composer and Eastman School of Music Professor Emeritus of Composition, died on Thursday, October 6, 2005 at the age of 81.

Born in Detroit in 1924, Benson was a professional performer by the age of 14. He played timpani in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Leonard Bernstein, and others while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

Self-taught in composition, Benson created nearly 150 works for solo instruments and voice, chamber ensembles, choirs, bands, and orchestras, many of which prominently feature percussion. His music has been performed in more than 40 countries, and many of his works have been recorded. Warren Benson received numerous awards for his music, including the John Simon Guggenheim Composer Fellowship, a Citation of Excellence from the National Band Association, many ASCAP Serious Music Awards, and three National Endowment for the Arts composer commissions. He was elected to the National Band Association Academy of Excellence and the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. In addition to his published music, Warren Benson also wrote Creative Projects in Musicianship as well as poetry and humorous fiction; in 1999 he celebrated his 75th birthday with the publication of …And My Daddy Will Play the Drums: Limericks for Friends of Drummers. Warren Benson is also the subject of a bio-bibliography by Alan Wagner, published earlier this year by Edwin Mellen Press.

From 1950-1952, Benson was awarded two successive Fulbright grants to teach at Anatolia College in Salonika, Greece. There he established a five-year bilingual music curriculum and organized the Anatolia College Chorale, the first scholastic co-ed choral group in that country. After 14 years at Ithaca College (where, in 1953, he organized the first touring percussion ensemble in the eastern United States—and one of the earliest worldwide), Mr. Benson became professor of composition at Eastman. During his tenure (1967-1993), he was honored with an Alumni Citation for Excellence, the Kilbourn professorship for distinguished teaching, and was named University Mentor. In 1994 he was appointed Professor Emeritus. He also served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at Southern Methodist University from 1986-88.

A Warren Benson Archive is in the process of being established at Eastman’s Sibley Music Library, and the Benson family will endow the creation of the Warren and Pat Benson Forum on Creativity.

Warren Benson is survived by his wife, Patricia, four children, and ten grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Warren and Pat Benson Forum on Creativity, through the Eastman School of Music.