Lawrence Gushee


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SAVOY – Lawrence Arthur (Larry) Gushee, 83, of Urbana passed away on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at the Champaign County Nursing Home.

Mr. Gushee was born on Feb. 25, 1931, in Ridley Park, Pa., the son of Lawrence and Mary McEachern Gushee. He married Marion Sibley on Aug. 16, 1958, in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Survivors include four children, Matthew C. Gushee of Englewood, Colo., Elizabeth M. Gushee of Austin, Texas, Sarah LaBarre of Savoy and Rachel H. Gushee of Urbana.

He was preceded in death by his wife Marion and his half brother, Charles V. McEachern of Nova Scotia.

Mr. Gushee grew up in Boston and Philadelphia, where he graduated in 1948 from William Penn Charter School. He completed a B.A. in the history of music in 1952 at Yale College and also studied in Dijon, France.

After two years of military service and several months studying music theory and clarinet in New York City, he enrolled in a program of musicological studies at Yale University, receiving a Ph.D. in 1962. It was there that he met his wife, Marion, a fellow graduate student.

Mr. Gushee taught at Yale until 1967, when he joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in 1976 he was appointed to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he remained until his retirement in 1997.

Mr. Gushee devoted himself to the study of medieval music and early jazz; he was a noted jazz expert in and outside academia and a leading authority on Jelly Roll Morton.

His publications included record reviews for The American Record Guide and The Jazz Review, entries in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and liner notes for Smithsonian reissues of the recordings of King Oliver and Freddie Keppard as well as Bluebird Records' reissue of the recordings of Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers.

His life's work focused on the Original Creole Band of New Orleans, resulting in the highly regarded book "Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band."

Colleagues and former students remember Mr. Gushee as a generous and enthusiastic source of knowledge, thought-provoking commentary and guidance, particularly in sharing his methods, materials and sources.

He was known for his passion for archival research, meticulous collection of documentary evidence, and personal interviews garnering new insights and revealing previously unknown connections among the interwoven musical, cultural and social threads comprising his area of study.

His broad-minded, rigorously analytical approach to the study of music across genre lines and time periods played an important role in validating the study of jazz within the field of musicology.

Mr. Gushee was also a mentor to fellow musicians, providing suggestions and expertise based on a lifetime spent as a clarinetist and saxophonist in a wide range of semi-professional ensembles.

The New Golden Rule Orchestra (NGRO), the last of Mr. Gushee's bands and one of which he was particularly proud, performed ragtime and jazz of the period 1900-1920. Listeners benefited not only from the NGRO's commitment to reproducing rhythms, harmonies and stylistic nuances as close as possible to the original, but also Mr. Gushee's informative, often humorous introductions that provided valuable context for each musical number.

Those who knew Mr. Gushee appreciated what one friend described as his "razor-sharp wit, zany humor, and perfectly modulated sarcasm."

Balancing his deep and broad intellectualism, he enjoyed pop culture in forms ranging from classic horror and monster films to Krazy Kat cartoons to French popular music of the 1940s and 1950s. He was particularly proud of a paper on Frank Zappa he delivered to the American Musicological Society in the 1970s.

Among his children's many fond memories are his penchant for finding creepy off-brand motels during the family's annual treks to Maine, his expert renderings of Chinese, Indian and Creole cuisine, and his talent for crooning tunes, jingles and ditties, many of his own composition.

His softer side was also revealed in his great love for the many pet cats that were part of the family over the years.

Mr. Gushee spent much of his last decade caring for his wife, Marion, until her death in 2013.

When it came time to focus on his own well-being, he and his family received excellent and compassionate care from numerous local individuals and agencies including home caregiver Mary Gallo, physicians Gretchen Sperka, Ruth Craddock and Andrea Brasch and employees of Windsor Court, Meadowbrook Health Center and Carle Hospice.

A memorial service will be held for Mr. Gushee at a later date.

Donations may be made in his memory to the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University and the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Condolences may be offered online at

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