In Memoriam: Robert Black

Robert Black

Photo by Stephanie Berger

Bassist Robert Black, who pushed for the evolution of bass music, has died from cancer. He was 67 years old. The news was shared by the contemporary classical music organization Bang on a Can.

“No-one on the planet could make the double bass sing, dance, sound like a drum, spin like a top, like Robert Black,” they wrote. “And no one dedicated his life to the new with as much invention, musicality and passion. We are all blessed to have been his friends.”

Black was born in Colorado in 1956 and began playing the double bass in junior high school. In a bio on his website, he cites the explosion of new music on the radio during his youth as his entry into never-ending sonic explorations.

He would become a student of bass virtuoso Gary Karr and go on to perform with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra as well as having an acclaimed solo and chamber music career. He was a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and performed with them for decades.

As part of his passion for creating new music, Black commissioned works for the bass by some of the world’s best composers: Philip Glass, John Luther Adams, Carman Moore, Joan Tower, Phil Niblock, Nick Dunston, Žibuolk? Martinaityt?, Krists Auznieks, Jakhongir Shukurov, and Daniel Sabzghabaei.

Black was also a professor of double bass at the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, and the Manhattan School of Music.

“New Music – it has taken me throughout the world, involved me in technology, improvisation, world musics, pop music, and all things traditional and experimental,” Black stated. “It has allowed me to collaborate with actors, dancers, painters, and musicians of all sorts. This same passion for exploration and discovery has led me deeper into the history of the double bass and its repertoire, which has led me deeper into the performance of the Classical Literature and the world of Teaching. Teaching – another passion. I’ve had many mentors, people who have reached back and grabbed my outstretched hand, pulled me along and propelled me forward, showing me everything along the way. And now, with my outstretched hand still being pulled, I can reach back and grab the outstretched hands of others, helping them along, propelling them forward, showing them.”

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Robert Black.

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