Obo Addy, a master drummer from Ghana passed away at 4:00 pm on Thursday, September 13th of 2012 surrounded by family and friends. He had been battling liver cancer since 2007. Obo Addy was 76 years old.
Born January 15, 1936 in Accra, the capital of Ghana, Addy was one of 55 children of Jacob Kpani Addy, a medicine man who integrated rhythmic music into healing and other rituals. Addy was designated by his tribe as a master drummer by the age of six.
Addy’s earliest musical influence was the traditional music of the Ga people, but he was also influenced as a teenager by popular music from Europe and the United States. He got his professional start in Ghana by playing with the Joe Kelly Band, the Ghana Broadcasting Band, and the Farmer’s Council Band, which played popular American and European music and the dance music of Ghana known as highlife.
The Arts Council of Ghana hired Addy in 1969, and he received his first international exposure at the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972. He then moved to London and spent six years touring internationally until 1978, when he relocated to Portland in the United States. There he met and married his wife Susan, who began managing his musical career.
A vigorous supporter of world music, Addy was extremely active in bringing that style of music to Portland and the state of Oregon. He maintained two different ensembles: Okropong, which shares traditional instrumentation, using hand and stick drums, bells, and shakers to create a layered rhythmic effect; and Kukrudu, an eight-piece African jazz group that relies on a mix of European and African instruments.
Through numerous in-school residencies, performances and workshops, Addy influenced hundreds of thousands of people in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
In 1996, Obo Addy was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This is the highest honor a traditional artist can receive in the United States. Obo was the first African born artist to ever receive the award.
“On behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts, it is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of 1996 NEA National Heritage Fellow Obo Addy,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. “Born in Ghana, Addy was an extraordinary drummer, equally adept at performing in traditional and contemporary styles. Designated a master drummer at age six, Addy went on to perform all over the world with different ensembles, also becoming a fine composer and beloved teacher. He was the first African artist to receive an NEA National Heritage Fellowship. We join many others in the drumming community and beyond in mourning his death while celebrating his life and his music.”
Obo Addy also received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Oregon, The Masters Fellowship from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Masters Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission.
He was a member of the faculty at Lewis & Clark College, and the artistic director of the Obo Addy Legacy Project, formerly known as the Homowo African Arts and Cultures, a not-for-profit organization founded by the Addys in 1986 as a virtual cultural center with offerings in schools, parks, community centers and performance venues all over the country. The organization put on an annual Homowo Festival in Portland for nearly 15 years with music and dance, food, vendors and art demonstrations from various countries within the continent of Africa and the African Diaspora.
Addy leaves behind his wife, Susan; children, Alex Addy, Brenda Addy, Akuyea Anupa Addy, Akuyea Bibio Addy, Akuyea Regina Addy and Kordai Addy; stepdaughter Debbe Hamada (Bill Andrews) and stepson Dan Hamada (Judy); brothers Yacub Addy, Oko Thompson, Ismaila Addy and Mustapha Tettey Addy; and nine grandchildren.
For more information, visit www.oboaddylegacyproject.org.