Willie Ruff retires having given “conservatory without walls” a home at Yale

By Lucile Bruce

Willie Ruff

Willie Ruff was born in 1931 in Sheffield, Alabama, a rural town on the south side of the Tennessee River. As a child, he showed an aptitude for music and immersed himself in the musical resources of his community. A neighborhood boy shared his drum set with young Willie and they became lifelong friends. The pianist at church became his piano teacher. But the best music he heard was the drumming in the African Pentecostal church half a block from his house. “We would sit on the ground outside the church and listen to the people playing those drums,” Ruff recalled. “It was the most exciting, the most moving music. I heard them in my sleep.”

Across the river from Sheffield stands Florence, the hometown of W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Handy visited Ruff ’s elementary school classroom, played for the children, and accompanied their singing. “W.C. Handy was a big presence in my world,” Ruff recounted. “When I saw him on stage in my school, talking about the importance of our musical heritage, I said, ‘I want to do that.’ I think I have.” MORE

Published May 1, 2017
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Voices of American Music concert pays tribute to the Oral History of American Music project on its 40th anniversary

“…The world’s definitive archive of historical material on American music.”
– The New York Times

Vivian Perlis interviews Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein in Copland’s home.

The Yale School of Music presents Voices of American Music, a concert tribute to the legendary Oral History of American Music (OHAM) project at Yale. The concert will take place on Tuesday, April 6 at 8 pm in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven) as part of the Chamber Music Society at Yale.

The works of some of America’s most important composers will be heard in a rare program that joins music with footage from OHAM’s archives. Founded by Vivian Perlis, one of the foremost historians of American music, OHAM is dedicated to collecting and preserving audio and video memoirs of notable figures in American music. The musicologist H. Wiley Hitchcock called OHAM “an incomparable resource, the most extensive ongoing oral history project in America.”

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Published March 10, 2010
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