Death Be Not Proud – A Celebration of the Life & Work Of Musicologist Robert M. Stevenson

I knew musicologist Robert Murell Stevenson at UCLA in 1988-89. We had a lot of meals together along with his friend Jules Zentner (another groomer and an expert in Scandinavian Literature).

Professor Stevenson had just retired from teaching but he would eat regularly in our Rieber Hall dormitory and he was quite the mentor. He took a particular interest in our African-American athletes from under-privileged backgrounds and would pimp them out to the Hollywood Gay Mafia. They’d earn hundreds, even thousands of dollars, meeting the fantasies of the most powerful men in Los Angeles.

Professor Stevenson did not have a high estimation of the cognitive abilities of these scholar-athletes but he recognized that different peoples have different gifts, and so he set them on a path of hard work where if you are diligent and you care about the customer, you can do well for yourself as long as you don’t catch AIDS and die.

According to informed sources, the sex work he arranged was very similar in style to his musical compositions, “marked by kinetic energy and set in vigorous and often acrid dissonant counterpoint.”

Professor Stevenson was a complicated guy. He didn’t hold by affirmative action but he accepted the world as it was. We’d talk about Martin Luther King’s plagiarized PhD thesis and the glories of the Civil Rights movement.

Professor Stevenson was a descendent of the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.

Apparently, there wasn’t much of a financial demand for getting these scholar-athletes into heterosexual sex work.

I’m not sure if the good professor ever availed himself of their services.

Despite everything he did for African-American scholar athletes, he was never recognized for his pimp work, not even an NAACP image award. Some have speculated that the Oscar-winning song “It’s hard out here for a pimp” by DJay was inspired by Professor Stevenson.

According to Wikipedia:

Robert Murrell Stevenson (3 July 1916 in Melrose, New Mexico – 22 December 2012 in Los Angeles) was an American musicologist. He studied at the College of Mines and Metallurgy of the University of Texas at El Paso (BA 1936), the Juilliard School of Music (piano, trombone and composition; graduated 1939), Yale University (MM) and the University of Rochester (PhD in composition 1942); further study took him to Harvard University (STB 1943), Princeton Theological Seminary (ThM 1949) and Oxford University (BLitt 1954). He taught at the University of Texas and at Westminster Choir College in the 1940s. In 1949 he became a faculty member at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he taught until 1987. Stevenson is well known for having studied with Igor Stravinsky when he was young, and for later being a teacher of influential minimalist La Monte Young.

His major interest was within the area of Latin American music and he contributed significantly to the historical record of Spanish, Portuguese and American music. He wrote extensively on African-American music and the music of the Protestant church within the Americas. In 1978 he became founder-editor of the Inter-American Music Review; now in its thirteenth volume. His works include nearly 30 books, a vast quantity of journal articles, and a large number of encyclopedia entries. He was coordinator of American entries for the Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart supplement and wrote over 300 articles for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

According to

A widely informed musical scientist, he gave courses at the Univ. of Calif, on music appreciation, special seminars on individual composers, and a highly popular course in 1983 on rock-‘n’-roll music. He also presented piano recitals as part of the curriculum. A master of European languages, he concentrated his scholarly energy mainly on Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese music, both sacred and secular, and his publications on these subjects are of inestimable value; he is also an investigative explorer of Italian Renaissance music. He contributed more than 400 articles to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and numerous articles on the Baroque period and on American composers to Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart; was its American ed. from 1967 to the completion of the last fascicle of its supplement. He held numerous grants, fellowships, and awards from learned societies: was a recipient of a Gulbenkian Foundation fellowship (1953–54); a Carnegie Foundation Teaching Award (1955–56); Fulbright research awards (1958–59; 1964; 1970–71); Ford Foundation fellowships (1966, 1981); a National Endowment for Humanities fellowship (1974); and a fellowship from the American Philosophical Soc. He was a contributor, beginning in 1976, to the Handbook of Latin American Studies at the Library of Congress; from 1978 was ed. of and principal contributor to Inter-American Music Review.

The versatility of his contributions on various subjects is indeed extraordinary. Thus, he published several articles containing materials theretofore unknown about Liszt’s piano concerts in Spain and Portugal. He ed., transcribed, and annotated Vilancicos Portugueses for Portugaliae Musica XXIX (Lisbon, 1976); contributed informative articles dealing with early American composers, South American operas, sources of Indian music, and studies on Latin American composers to the Musical Quarterly, Revista Musical Chilena, journal of the American Musicological Society, Ethnomusicology, and Inter-American Music Review. His avowed mission in his work is “to rescue the musical past of the Americas.” The honors bestowed upon him, especially in the Spanish-speaking world, are many.

In 1988 the Organization of American States created the Robert Stevenson Prize in Latin American Musicology. In April 1990 he was awarded a gold medal in ceremonies at the Prado Museum in Madrid, presided over by the King of Spain, and in Dec. of that year was inducted as an honorary member into the Sociedad Espanda de Musicologica. Also er into the Sociedad Espanola de Musicologica. made him an honorary member, and he was honored by the Comisión Nacional de Cultura de Venezuela. In coordination with the quincentennial of the discovery of America in 1992, Stevenson’s book Spanish Cathedral Music in the Golden Age (1961) was publ. in Madrid in a Spanish tr. as La mùsica en las catedrales de España durante el sigio do oro. Among other assorted distinctions, the mayor of El Paso, Tex. (where Stevenson had resided from age 2 to 18), presented him with a scroll making him an honorary citizen. Stevenson’s compositions are marked by kinetic energy and set in vigorous and often acrid dissonant counterpoint. His symphonic 2 Peruvian Preludes were performed by Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orch. on June 28, 1962; the score was later expanded into 3 preludias peruanos and first performed in Mexico City, on July 20, 1963, with Luis Herrera de la Fuente conducting. Other works include Nocturne in Ebony and A Texas Suite for Orch.; Clarinet Sonata; 3 piano sonatas: A Cambridge Sonata, A Manhattan Sonata, and A New Haven Sonata. He also wrote Coronation Concerto for Organ and A Sandburg Cantata for Chorus.

According to UCLA:

In all, he authored twenty-nine books and hundreds of scholarly journal, dictionary and encyclopedia articles. In 1978 Stevenson launched his own journal, Inter-American Music Review. Unique in conception as well as execution, it became a major venue for leading research on music of all the Americas. An accomplished composer and pianist, Stevenson wrote a wide range of pieces for piano, chamber groups, choir, and symphony orchestra. He was the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, NEH, and Ford Foundation fellowships and grants, and he was an honorary member of several scholarly societies, including the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and the American Musicological Society (AMS). For SEM he established the Robert Stevenson Prize awarded to composers who are ethnomusicologists, and for AMS he also established an award for scholars of Iberia or Latin America. He also founded the annual Robert Stevenson Lectures in the UCLA Department of Musicology. In 1985 he was awarded the OAS Gabriela Mistral Prize and in 2004 he was nominated for and received the Constantin Pununcio Award for scholars who maintain high levels of research after retirement from the systemwide University of California. Dr. Stevenson’s research archive is maintained at the Conservatorio Real de Madrid.

Stevenson was an exceptional mentor as well as researcher and guided twenty-five dissertations at UCLA and Catholic University. Those who were fortunate enough to do graduate research under his direction felt deeply inspired not only by his erudition and productivity, by the scope and depth of his investigations, but also by his passionate commitment to preserving and promoting a vast heritage of great music. He played a crucial role in moving the Americas to a position of central importance in music scholarship. Though he will be sorely missed by innumerable friends, admirers, colleagues, and students, his seminal work will continue to serve as a shining beacon for music scholars everywhere.

A fellow UCLA professor writes about Dr. Stevenson: “There is a man on the UCLA campus who is a living legend. He walks, talks, performs, investigates, writes, and teaches … in effect, he is a metamorphosis of continuity, change, and inspiration to all of us for the future. He is also a genius. He will never tell you so, but we all know so. He has created my course of study at this university. He imparted his faith to me years ago and his influence has been ever present in not only my academic career, but in my personal life.”

As Joe Biden says, love is love, and Professor Stevenson touched many lives. Like the teacher groomer hero in The History Boys, I’d like to believe that his gropings were usually “more appreciative than exploratory.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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