Percussionist, composer, and educator Obo Addy died at the age of 76. His career in music brought him to Oregon, where he taught for many years while making records and introducing African music to new audiences through performances. A Ghanaian by birth, Addy came from a family with strong roots in music and spirituality. He told Oregon ArtBeat in 2004 about receiving an early education in the power of percussion. “When I was about four years old, I was watching my father dancing, and my older brothers were drumming, and the next day was when I really started playing what I heard,”. Addy came to prominence during the 70s — the same decade he moved to Portland. Over the years, his reputation as a dynamic performer was matched by his influence spreading Ghanaian and other styles of music with workshops and residencies. In 1992, he was commissioned by The Kronos Quartet to compose “Wawshishijay” for the album “Pieces of Africa”.
Among the many awards he received was a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Obo Addy, the son of a Wonche medicine man in Ghana West Africa, was designated a “master drummer” at the age of six. Surrounded by his enormous family (his father had 55 children by 10 wives) and thoroughly immersed in the core musical traditions of his people, Addy embodied the skills and deep values of Ga music as few could.
During his teenage years and after World War II, he absorbed the international pop music which had seeped into his home town of Accra. Addy played in Joe Kelly’s Band, The Ghana Broadcasting Band, and the Farmers Council Band for many years mostly playing European and American music. He later gravitated to Highlife, the new blend of African and European instrumentation. In 1969, he was employed by the Arts Council of Ghana as a Ga master of the national music. In 1972, he and his brothers performed at the Olympic Games in Munich and embarked on an international tour. They lived in London and toured extensively until 1978 when he moved to the United States and settled in Portland, Oregon. With his wife, Susan, he created The Obo Addy Legacy Project, a not-for-profit organization which has introduced thousands of people to the music of Ghana. He was a richly skilled teacher who conducting numerous in-school residencies and workshops. Obo wrote original music blending African rhythms with classical instrumentation. His music will become available for sale on this website at a later date. He founded Portland’s Homowo (harvest) Festival of African music and culture, which drew thousands each year.
Obo Addy taught music at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon for 25 years. He traveled throughout the country conducting teaching residencies and performing both solo and with his performing groups. He founded two ensembles which tour nationally- Okropong, dedicated to traditional tribal music and dance of Ghana, and Kukrudu, which performed original music written by Addy. His numerous recordings include two recent works entitled “Let me Play My Drums” and “Okropong.” Obo’s newest recordings, Wonche Bi and Afieye Okropong, were released on the Alula label. A final recording “The Best of Obo Addy” will be released later this year.
In 1996 Obo Addy was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. This is the highest honor a traditional artist can receive in this country. Obo is the first African born artist to ever receive the award. This picture shows Obo Addy receiving the award from Jane Alexander, NEA director. He also received fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Regional Arts Commission. He was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2007.