In Memoriam: Frederick Charles Tillis, 1930-2020

Frederick C. Tillis, professor emeritus of music and former director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, died this past spring from complications after hip surgery. He was 90 years old.

A native of Galveston, Texas, Tillis began to play jazz at local clubs at the age of 12. Dr. Tillis enrolled at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, when he was only 16, beginning his teaching career while earning his bachelor’s degree. He received a master’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1952. After a four-year stint in the United States Air Force, where he conducted the Air Force band, he then resumed teaching at Wiley College and North Texas State before earning his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa.

Before joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts in 1970, Dr. Tillis taught at Grambling State University in Louisiana and Kentucky State University. At the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Tillis served as a professor of music, associate provost, associate chancellor for equal opportunity and diversity, and the director of the Fine Arts Center for nearly two decades.

Professor Tillis’ work spanned jazz, European, and African-American spiritual traditions, and encompassed an expansive range of diverse references with dynamic melodic and harmonic textures. His more than 100 compositions include works for piano and voice, orchestra and chorus, solo, and chamber music.


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  1. Ivory Brock says:

    I was blessed at Grambling to have Doctor Tillis as my Theory and Composition teacher.
    His understanding and methods of teaching has help carry me through my Career,
    Thank You Doc for the personal times you spent with me.
    Ivory Brock

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