In Memoriam: Easley Blackwood, Jr.

Easley Blackwood sitting at a piano

Photo: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-11901], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Written by Russell Trapp

With sadness, the Department of Music shares the news that Easley Blackwood Jr. died on January 22, 2023. No close relatives survived him. Easley was born April 21, 1933, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Easley, Sr. and Beecher Blackwood. His father, Easley Sr., was a noted contract bridge player, writer, and originator of the Blackwood convention. Easley, Jr. was an American professor of music, a concert pianist, a composer of music, some using unusual tunings, and the author of books on music theory, including his research into the properties of microtonal tunings and traditional harmony.

Blackwood mastered the piano in Indianapolis and made solo appearances at 14 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. He graduated from Yale University with a Master of Arts degree. From 1958 to 1997, Blackwood taught in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago with the titles of Professor and Professor Emeritus.

Blackwood's initial compositions were not particularly unconventional, although he employed polyrhythm and wide melodic contours in them. This early music by Blackwood was atonal yet formally conservative. In 1980–81 Blackwood shifted rather abruptly to a new style which, in 1982, yielded “Twelve Microtonal Etudes for Electronic Music Media.” His compositions after this point moved toward a late-19th-century tonality; he likened its harmonic syntax to Verdi, Ravel, and Franck.

As a performer at the piano, Blackwood played diverse compositions and promoted the music of Charles Ives, Pierre Boulez, and the Second Viennese School. In addition to his solo piano performances, Blackwood was a pianist in the chamber group Chicago Pro Musica, mainly comprised of Chicago Symphony Orchestra members.

Blackwood is known for his book, The Structure of Recognizable Diatonic Tunings, published in 1985. Cedille Records released several recordings of his music.

Memorials can be directed to The University of Chicago Department of Music, 1010 E. 59th Street, Chicago IL 60637.