Remembering Professor Ernest Brown

To the Williams Community,

I am sad to report the death of Ernest Brown, professor of music.

Since joining the faculty in 1988, Ernest broadened culturally the college’s engagement with music. As an ethnomusicologist he taught such courses as “Music Cultures of the World,” “History of African American Music,” and “Black Music and Postmodernism.” He was an accomplished player of the marimba and mbira as well as a drummer. And, of course, he was so deeply involved for many years with both Kusika and the Zambezi Marimba Band. Nothing was more aurally and visually joyful than experiencing Ernest on stage surrounded by students as they made delightful music together.

Ernest also greatly increased the college’s interaction with Africa itself–bringing performers here and traveling there himself, sometimes for research and other times as a cultural emissary sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

Our thoughts are with his family. We’ll pass on any details of memorial arrangements when they’re known.


Adam Falk




Africana Studies Salutes Ernest Brown, Beloved Colleague and Friend

April 5, 2012

Ernest Brown was a well loved and highly respected member of the Africana Studies community from the first-day he arrived at Williams College.  We in Africana remember well his steadfast dedication to building the program, recruiting faculty, mentoring students and junior colleagues, and invigorating our thoughts and programs with genuine interdisciplinarity and the love of music.  Arriving from a Fulbright in Zimbabwe in 1988 after receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1984, Ernest became a co-director with Sandra Burton of Kusika – a student performance ensemble combining traditional African dance, music, and storytelling – in 1989.  By 1992, he founded and directed the Zambesi Marimba Band.   He built instruments, taught generations of students how to play various instruments from Southern Africa – like the mbira – in an authentic manner, invited leading African musicians to teach and play with the student ensembles, and included the entire Berkshire community in the bi-annual ‘Music Fests’ (or Concerts) Sandra and he produced.  In both the transatlantic global reach of his work – bringing Africa to Williamstown, and African American & Caribbean musical traditions to Africa – and in his insistence on producing work that included the wider community – faculty, staff, students, local residents were all members of the Zambesi Band – Ernest stood for all that was best in the Africana Studies tradition.

We will miss you Ernest, but we know you live on in and with us in everything we do to strengthen Africana Studies and to fight for justice and equality for all peoples, especially those who have enriched our lives with the revolutionary rhythms of jazz, and mbira, and reggae, and highlife, and all the other transatlantic sounds of freedom beating from your, Ernest’s, drums of life.  Rest well beloved friend and comrade.