Percussionist, composer, and educator Obo Addy has died. He was 76. His career in music brought him to Oregon, where he taught for years at Lewis and Clark College, while making records and introducing African music to new audiences.
A Ghanaian by birth, Addy came from a family with strong roots in music and spirituality. He told Oregon ArtBeat in 2004 about receiving an early education in the power of percussion.
“When I was, like, four years old, and watching my father dancing, and my older brothers were dancing, and the next day was when I really started playing what I heard,” he told OPB.
Addy came to prominence during the 70s — the same decade he moved to Portland. Over the years, his reputation as a dynamic performer was matched by his influence spreading Ghanaian and other styles of music with workshops and residencies. Among the many awards he received was a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Addy’s family, including his wife, six children and two step-children, are still making arrangements for a public memorial.
Obo Addy — master drummer, award-winning composer, brilliant musician, and skilled teacher — passed away peacefully at 4 pm Thursday surrounded by family and friends. He had been battling liver cancer since 2007. Addy was 76 years old.
A public memorial is being planned, and will be announced at a later date. HIs family is directing his fans and friends to CaringBridge to leave messages, photos and memories, which will be shared with Addy’s family. The family has also set up a page on www.indiegogo.com/oboaddy to help raise funds for costs related to his illness and funeral expenses.
Addy played music to the very end, joining with family, friends and musicians from throughout his life for a few last jam sessions in his final days. He passed away with music filling his ears.
Born January 15, 1936 in Accra, the capital of Ghana, Addy was one of 55 children of Jacob Kpani Addy, a medicine man who integrated rhythmic music into healing and other rituals. Addy was designated by his tribe as a master drummer by the age of six.
Addy’s earliest musical influence was the traditional music of the Ga people, but he was also influenced as an adolescent by popular music from Europe and the United States. He got his professional start in Ghana by playing with the Joe Kelly Band, the Ghana Broadcasting Band, and the Farmer’s Council Band, which played popular American and European music and the dance music of Ghana known as highlife.
Oregon Art Beat 2004 Feature On Obo Addy
The Arts Council of Ghana as a Ga master hired Addy in 1969, and he received his first international exposure at the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972. He then move to London and spent six years touring internationally until 1978, when he relocated to Portland. There he met and married his wife Susan, who began managing his musical career.
A vigorous supporter of world music, Addy was extremely active in bringing that style of music to Portland and Oregon. He maintained two different ensembles: Okropong, which shares traditional instrumentation, using hand and stick drums, bells, and shakers to create a layered rhythmic effect; and Kukrudu, an eight-piece African jazz group that relies on a mix of European and African instruments.
Through numerous in-school residencies, performances and workshops, Addy affected hundreds of thousands of lives in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Addy’s charismatic spirit, rapid-fire hands, and powerful voice led him to receive the National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts under President Bill Clinton, the Governors Award for the Arts in Oregon, The Masters Fellowship from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Masters Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission.
He was a member of the faculty at Lewis & Clark College, and the artistic director of the Obo Addy Legacy Project, formerly known as the Homowo African Arts and Cultures, a not-for-profit organization founded by the Addys in 1986 as a virtual cultural center with offerings in schools, parks, community centers and performance venues all over the country. The organization put on an annual Homowo Festival in Portland for nearly 15 years with music and dance, food, vendors and art demonstrations from various countries within the continent of Africa and the African Diaspora.
Addy leaves behind his wife, Susan; children, Alex Addy, Brenda Addy, Akuyea Anupa Addy, Akuyea Bibio Addy, Akuyea Regina Addy and Kordai Addy; stepdaughter Debbe Hamada (Bill Andrews) and stepson Dan Hamada (Judy); brothers Yacub Addy, Oko Thompson, Ismaila Addy and Mustapha Tettey Addy; and nine grandchildren.
For more information, visit www.oboaddylegacyproject.org.