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Im Memoriam: Bernard Woma


The Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology lost a brilliant artist, devoted teacher, and distinguished alumnus on April 27, 2018. Bernard Woma studied in our department even as he taught Ghanaian performance to many undergraduate and graduate students. He was awarded two master’s degrees in African Studies and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University.

Bernard was a true cultural treasure from Ghana who toured the world as xylophonist and lead drummer of the National Dance Company of Ghana and Saakumu Dance Troupe. He also performed with renowned artists such as Maya Angelou, Yo Yo Ma, Glen Vellez as well as symphony orchestras around the world. He played for international dignitaries and presidents such as U. S. president Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II, and Nelson Mandela. In 2009 he was honored as the cultural resource person for President Barack Obama’s family when they visited Ghana. He personally taught President Obama’s two daughters African music and songs in Ghana.

His numerous appearances in the US included performances with New York Philharmonic at the Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; South Dakota Symphony Orchestra; Minnesota Orchestra; and Albany Symphony Orchestra. Internationally, he joined with the Berliner Symphoniker in Berlin, Germany, and KwaZulu Natal Symphony Orchestra in Durban, South Africa. He held residencies with the Ethos Percussion Group, organized performances for New York's African Xylophone Festival (AXF), as well as taught at various universities and colleges in the United States. The performance of his gyil concerto composition "Gyil Nyog Me Na" in the spring of 2006 at Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall, New York was a testimony of his musicianship.

Bernard was the Artistic Director of the award winning Saakumu Dance Troupe and the founder and director of the Dagara Music and Arts Center in Accra, Ghana. He maintained a part-time residence in Bloomington as a base for his busy touring schedule. The Indiana University community benefitted from his generous sharing of his musical talent. His last appearance on campus took place on March 29, 2018 at the retirement festivities for Mellonee Burnim and Ruth Stone. He will be deeply missed. Plans for a memorial event will be announced at a later time.

Daniel Reed
Professor of Ethnomusicology
Indiana University

Ruth M. Stone
Professor Emerita of Ethnomusicology
Indiana University