Robert E. Brown

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Ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown is widely credited with coining the phrase "world music" as a catchall for the melodies and rhythms indigenous to cultures outside the industrialized Western Hemisphere.…
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Ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown is widely credited with coining the phrase "world music" as a catchall for the melodies and rhythms indigenous to cultures outside the industrialized Western Hemisphere. Robert Edward Brown was born in Utica, NY, on April 18, 1927. After beginning his education in a one-room schoolhouse in nearby Clinton, he later learned timpani, bass drum, double bass, and cello, and while in high school formed a dance band dubbed the One Meatball. After studying music theory and piano under George Budasheim at the Utica Conservatory, Brown served a stint in the U.S. Navy, resuming his education at Ithaca College and Cornell University before earning a doctorate in ethnomusicology from UCLA, funding research for his dissertation, "The Mrdanga: A Study of Drumming in South India," with both Fulbright and Ford Foundation grants.

In 1962 Brown obtained a teaching position at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT -- there he developed pioneering new undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs that also created academic positions for musicians from across the globe. To emphasize the unique approach and scope of the curriculum, Brown introduced the term "world music," the English equivalent of the German "weltmusik," first cited in print in 1906. Upon exiting Wesleyan in 1971, Brown relocated to the West Coast, where he developed a similar world music program at the California Institute of the Arts. He was also an instrumental force behind the 1974 opening of Berkeley's Center for World Music.

During this time Brown also worked with the New York-based Nonesuch Explorer recording label, producing a series of groundbreaking albums documenting the gamelan music of Java and Bali -- when astronomer Carl Sagan helped NASA launch a kind of interstellar time capsule in 1977, it included musical selections from Bach, Chuck Berry, and Blind Willie Johnson alongside samples of the Javanese court music originally recorded by Brown. During the late '70s he also chaired the music department at San Diego State University, remaining with the school until retiring in 1993. In his later years, Brown annually visited Istanbul to oversee research of traditional Turkish arts and culture, and regularly traveled the globe lecturing on the musical culture of South India. He died at his home in La Mesa, CA, on November 29, 2005.