Olly Wilson

Olly Wilson

Olly Woodrow Wilson, Jr. (b. St. Louis, Missouri, September 7, 1937) is a prominent American composer of contemporary classical music, pianist, double bassist, and musicologist. He is one of the preeminent living composers of African American descent.

He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to Alma Grace Peoples Wilson, a seamstress, and Olly Woodrow Wilson, Sr., an insurance salesman and butler.

Wilson graduated with a B.M. degree from Washington University in 1959, and earned an M.M. degree in music composition in 1960 from the University of Illinois. His composition instructors included Robert Wykes, Robert Kelley, and Philip Bezanson. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1964.

Wilson has taught at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (1965-1970). He is currently an emeritus professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught since 1970, retiring in 2002. He also served as the chairman of that university's music department between 1993 and 1997. His notable students include Neil Rolnick, Dwight Banks, Robert Greenberg, and Frank La Rocca.

He has been commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic. In 1995 he was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In 1971, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he used to live in West Africa, where he studied African music and languages.

Wilson's music is published by Gunmar Music (a division of G. Schirmer). His music has been recorded on the Columbia, CRI, Desto, Turnabout, and New World labels.

Wilson is married and lives in Berkeley, California.


Southern, Eileen, and Olly Wilson (1978). "Olly Wilson: The Education of a Composer." The Black Perspective in Music, v. 6, no. 1 (Spring 1978), pp. 57-70.

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