Celebrating the Life of Halim El-Dabh
“A Celebration of Life” was held for Halim El-Dabh on Sun., Nov. 19, 2017 in Cartwright Hall. Full of the same optimism, enthusiasm and passion he held throughout his life, Halim passed away peacefully in his home on Sat., Sept. 2 at 96 years old. The celebration included performances of his compositions, remarks from family, friends and colleagues, and interfaith prayers.
Halim El-Dabh, an internationally regarded Egyptian composer, performer, ethnomusicologist, and educator, started teaching in Kent State’s School of Music in 1969. During his time at Kent State, he earned the title University Professor, one of only eight faculty members to ever do so, and was also a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1988. An avid researcher, he traveled all over the world, including many African countries, to engage in musical field research and recording. After retiring in 1991, he continued teaching and composing, holding workshops for children and exploring new ways of creating sounds. His course, African Cultural Expression, is still taught today, curated and led by Olugbala Manns.
Known for fusing his extensive ethnomusicological research with his creative endeavors, he composed music imbued with Near Eastern, African or ancient Egyptian aesthetics. He was also a pioneer of electronic music, beginning early experiments with the genre in Egypt in 1944. In 1949 he received a Fulbright grant to study in the United States, where he later worked with composers Aaron Copland and Irving Fine. By 1958 he had a become firmly embedded in the American classical music scene, performing on the derabucca in the premiere of his work Fantasia-Tahmeel with the American Symphony Orchestra and working with choreographer Martha Graham to create the masterpiece Clytemnestra.
Halim is survived by his wife Deborah El-Dabh, son Habeeb, daughters Shadia and Amira, and grandchildren Nathan and Rakia.