Obo Addy, a master drummer, award-winning composer, musician, and teacher, died Thursday. Addy, 76, had been battling liver cancer since 2007.
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.
Born Jan. 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.
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 moved to London and spent six years touring internationally until 1978, when he moved to Portland. There he met and married his wife Susan, who began managing his musical career.
A vigorous supporter of world music, Addy was 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.
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.
A public memorial is being planned and will be announced in the future, family members said.
His family is directing his fans and friends to CaringBridge to leave messages, photos and memories, which will be shared with Addy’s family (note: a free account must be set up to access the site). The family has also set up a webpage to help raise funds for costs related to his illness and funeral expenses.
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