Obo Addy, master drummer, award-winning composer, and skilled teacher, passed away peacefully Friday 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.
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.
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 relocated to Portland. There he met and married his wife Susan, who began managing his musical career.
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,
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, six children, a stepdaughter, a stepson; 4 brothers and 9 grandchildren.