Kent-Based Global Musician/Composer Halim el-Dabh Dies at Age 96

Photo by Gary Harwood

It had gotten easy to believe he was going to live forever, but Egyptian-born, Kent-based musician Halmin El-Dabh passed away at this home in Kent on September 2. After all, the Kent State University professor emeritus/composer/ ethnomusicologist/keyboard player/percussionist was 4,096 years old.

OK, so he was actually 96. And every year Standing Rock Cultural Arts in Kent had a party to celebrate that included the new music he was creating until the end — in March he debuted a piece called “Ceremonial Healing of Bastet The Cat” —along with an open drumming session.

El-Dabh grew up in Cairo where he first began his explorations in electronic music in the 1940s. He arrived in the U.S. in 1950 on a Fulbright Scholarship and studied at various universities, then settling in the New York metropolitan area where he became part of the city’s fertile music scene of the 50s. He worked with many of the era’s cutting-edge musicians and influenced many others with his blending of electronic and traditional global music sounds accumulated on his extensive travels, long before that became a familiar thing.

He taught at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and Howard University in Washington D.C. before coming to Kent State where he was a professor of African ethnomusicology until his retirement in 1991. He continued to teach classes there and write and perform music.

His wife Deborah posted, “It is with the deepest sorrow that I announce the death of my beloved husband Halim who died peacefully and gracefully in his home in Kent, Ohio on Sept. 2, 2017.  Halim was a prolific composer as well as a performer, professor and ethnomusicologist. One of his most famous works is his collaboration with Martha Graham for a work entitled “Clytemnestra”. He has written scores for world wide orchestras, dance companies, chamber orchestras and solo works.

Halim is survived by his beloved wife Deborah and his children Habeeb, Shadia and Amira.”

Undoubtedly, there will be a musical gathering soon to celebrate his long, productive, creative life.

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