Passing of James Keene — Illinois’ Fourth Band Director

Photographs by Scott W. Schwartz

Earlier this week the band world was saddened to learn that the University of Illinois’ fourth band director, James F. Keene (1948-2022), had died.  Jim retired in 2008 after a distinguished 23 year career (1985-2008) as the Director of Bands at the University of Illinois School of Music, just the fourth person to hold the title since 1905.  During his tenure at the University of Illinois he was awarded the title of Brownfield Distinguished Professor of Music, performed at Carnegie Hall, and conducted the University Symphonic Band and Wind Symphony at major national and international music conferences. Commercial recordings of band concerts that he conducted  have been broadcast on U.S. National Public Radio and internationally on radio programs in Asia, Australia, and Europe. Jim was a Past-President of the American Bandmasters Association (ABA), Big Ten Band Directors Association, and National Band Association. He was one of just six people to be awarded the Honorary Life Membership for the Texas Bandmaster Association. Besides membership in professional and honorary societies, Jim was a Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary International Foundation, serving as president of the Champaign Rotary Club in 1995-1996. In addition he served on the ABA’s “The Journal of Band Research” Editorial Board and chairman for the Sousa-ABA Ostwald Composition Contest. Jim also chaired the University Bands Division Bachelor’s and Master’s of Music programs at his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Jim came to the University of Illinois from the band programs at the University of Arizona (1983-1985) and East Texas State University (1975-1980), after serving as Assistant Director of Bands with the University of Michigan (1973-1975).

Jim’s many band colleagues across the country have posted numerous messages and photographs of him after dozens of performances, so I thought I would post a few photographs that I took of him rehearsing the University’s Wind Symphony as it was preparing for its March 3, 2022 concert for the ABA conference in Indianapolis.  For those who knew Jim well, he was never fond of having his picture taken.  However, he granted me permission to photograph him for my music-pandemic documentation project. I think these images reflect how musicians performing under his baton best knew him.  Jim and his exceptional rehearsal techniques and musicianship will be missed by everyone who performed and studied with him.

For those interested in learning more about Jim and his work at the University of Illinois, please consider looking at the James F Keene Personal Papers that are part of the collections of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.

Updated on