J. H. Kwabena Nketia, a Ghanaian ethnomusicologist and composer who became the world’s leading scholar on African musical traditions, died on March 13 in Legon, a suburb of Accra, the capital of Ghana. He was 97.

His death, at a hospital, was confirmed by the composer Fred Onovwerosuoke, who studied with Dr. Nketia and became a close friend.

In a career stretching back to the 1950s and continuing into his 90s, Dr. Nketia wrote hundreds of articles and books in English and Twi, a Ghanaian language, on topics ranging from music theory to folklore, as well as scores of compositions. He held professorships at the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Pittsburgh; and the University of Ghana, where he helped shape the curriculum after Ghana broke free from British rule.

His 1974 book, “The Music of Africa,” is widely considered a definitive historical study, and “Ethnomusicology and African Music,” a collection of his writings published in 2005, is used in classrooms throughout Africa and across the world.
As a composer, Dr. Nketia wrote music for choirs, solo voices and instrumental groups that used both African and Western instruments. His music was particularly informed by the sounds of Ghana, but he integrated influences from across the African continent.

In his academic work, too, Dr. Nketia espoused a Pan-African ideology even as he insisted on the multiplicity of sub-Saharan cultures.

“The most important characteristic of this family of musical traditions is the diversity of expressions it accommodates, a diversity arising from different applications of common procedures and usages,” he wrote. “The music of Africa, like its language, is, so to speak, ‘ethnic-bound.’ Each society practices its own variant.”

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