Loving music

Remembering legendary School of Music Professor Michael Budds.

Photo by Michael Cali

Published on Show Me Mizzou May 5, 2021
Story by Tony Rehagen, BA, BJ ’01

Michael Budds made a mission of visiting great musicians’ gravesites. To the historian in him, they were hallowed ground. During his 73 years, Budds toured the final resting places of dozens of artists, from famous sites like that of Jim Morrison in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery and Elvis at Graceland to all three of the mythical unmarked graves of blues legend Robert Johnson in various corners of the Mississippi Delta. “It was important to him that he pay homage to people who made a difference,” says Gregory Fuller, MM ’86, PhD ’00, a former student and friend who traveled with Budds to such places across North America and Europe.

Teaching others to appreciate music was Budds’ life’s work right up to his own passing in November 2020. For 37 years, he was a beloved professor of music history at Mizzou. He was a world-renowned musicologist who wrote several books and edited many more. He won honors including the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching and the William H. Byler Distinguished Professor Award. In 2019, a year after retirement, he donated a large sum to the university to endow the Budds Center for American Music Studies.

But his biggest influence might turn out to be the thousands of undergraduates who took his legendary course — Jazz, Pop and Rock. Many walked in looking for an easy A and walked out with a hard-earned grade and a much deeper understanding of 20th-century American music. “He wanted people from all walks of life, particularly nonmusic majors, to have an enhanced experience listening to music,” says David Rayl, former MU music faculty and longtime friend. “The more you know about something, the more you can love it.”

Few knew and loved music more than Budds. In paying his respects at a musician’s tomb, he practiced a three-part ritual. He would have his photo taken, smoke a Marlboro 100 and then talk to anyone who’d listen about the artist, their life and their contribution to the world.

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