Francis McBeth, who served for 39 years on the Ouachita Baptist University faculty before retiring in 1996 as professor emeritus of music and distinguished professor, died Friday, Jan. 6. He was a world-renowned composer, former conductor of the Arkansas Symphony, and Composer Laureate of the State of Arkansas.
He is survived by his wife, Mary, daughter Laura, and son Matt. Service arrangements are pending.
Below is a news release from Ouachita Baptist University:
Francis McBeth, world-renowned composer
and longtime Ouachita professor, dies at 78
ARKADELPHIA—Dr. W. Francis McBeth, internationally acclaimed composer and conductor and longtime professor of music at Ouachita Baptist University, died Friday, Jan. 6, at age 78.
Dr. McBeth, who earned extensive accolades throughout his career, served as Ouachita’s composer-in-residence, Lena Goodwin Trimble Professor of Music and chair of the theory/composition department of the Division of Music. He also served as conductor of the Arkansas Symphony and as Arkansas’ composer laureate, the first composer laureate named in the United States.
“How blessed we have been to have Dr. McBeth invest his life and work at Ouachita,” said Ouachita President Rex M. Horne, Jr. “This was the center for his creative work.
“Dr. McBeth lived as an example of one who touched the lives of unknown thousands and will continue to do so for many years to come,” Dr. Horne added. “We are enriched by his service. We pray for Mrs. McBeth, their children and family. We also give gratitude to God for Dr. McBeth.”
“There is no way to measure how much impact Dr. McBeth has had on Ouachita’s music program over the years,” said Dr. Scott Holsclaw, dean of Ouachita’s School of Fine Arts. “It is amazing how many lives he touched both at Ouachita and throughout the world, including students, colleagues and music professionals. He is truly a Ouachita and Arkansas treasure.”
McBeth, who joined the Ouachita faculty in 1957, was named Distinguished University Professor by the Ouachita Board of Trustees upon his retirement in 1996. Trustees also named the William Francis McBeth Recital Hall in Mabee Fine Arts Center in his honor.
President Emeritus Daniel Grant, who served as president of Ouachita from 1970 to 1988, recalled, “On becoming president of Ouachita Baptist University in 1970, I soon learned that W. Francis McBeth qualified as every university president’s distinguished ‘dream professor.’ Everyone sang his praises – students, faculty, administrators, custodians, community leaders and professional peers literally around the world!”
Citing McBeth’s recognition as Distinguished University Professor, Grant added that “he had already set an almost unreachable standard for measuring distinction.”
“I studied freshman theory with Dr. McBeth at Ouachita,” Dr. Charles Wright, professor emeritus of music, said at the time of McBeth’s retirement. “He has meant a great deal to Ouachita and the field of music, generally. He has impacted many lives over the course of years and his students, peers and friends can testify to his dedication to quality music and to his positive attention to their individual lives and careers.”
McBeth, who began playing trumpet in the second grade, earned degrees from Hardin-Simmons University and the University of Texas and also studied at the Eastman School of Music. He served from 1954-56 with the 101st Airborne Band at Fort Jackson, S.C., and the 98th Army Band at Fort Rucker, Ala. One of the most prolific composers of wind band music in the 20th century, he was a past president of the American Bandmasters Association. His "Double Pyramid Balance System" is a widely used pedagogical tool in the concert band world.
During a musical tribute titled “The Creative World of Francis McBeth,” presented on the Ouachita campus in conjunction with his retirement, McBeth was invited to conduct several of his compositions as part of the two-night concert, including “Caccia, Opus 62,” “The Dream Catcher, Opus 86” and “The Gathering of the Waters, Opus 76.”
In a 2003 interview with Jim Newsom, McBeth said that “Through the Countless Halls of Air,” a piece commissioned by and dedicated to the U.S. Air Force Band, best defined his work. “I just think it’s the best piece I’ve ever done,” he noted.
Reflecting on his musical legacy, McBeth told Newsom that his fondest desire was for his fellow musicians, students and music lovers everywhere to say of him, “I liked his music!”
“That’s your whole lifetime’s work. You want it accepted more than you want yourself accepted,” McBeth explained. “The work is much more important – especially when you’ve spent your whole life just doing that.”
Citing McBeth’s lifelong commitment to instrumental music, Dr. George Keck, professor emeritus of music, related in an essay published in Ouachita Voices: Celebrating 125 Years of Academic & Christian Excellence that when McBeth first came to Ouachita in the 1950s, “there really was no marching band and no instrumental area.” Keck wrote that at the beginning of the fall semester of McBeth’s first year on campus, “he went through the dorms asking anyone he met, ‘Have you ever played in the band?’ If the student answered yes, he offered a scholarship there on the spot to play in the band. He managed to field a band that fall, and Ouachita has had a marching band ever since.”
As a trumpet and bass violin player, McBeth performed in England, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy and Scotland. He also served as a conductor throughout Europe as well as Australia, Canada and Japan.
Among his many accomplishments, McBeth was a recipient of an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Special Award annually for more than 30 consecutive years. He also received the Howard Hanson Prize of the Eastman School of Music for his “Third Symphony,” the American School Band Directors Association’s Edwin Franko Goldman Award in 1983, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia’s American Man of Music in 1988, Kappa Kappa Phi’s National Service to Music Award in 1989, the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic’s Medal of Honor in 1993 and the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Medal of Honor in 2000.
Dr. Craig Hamilton, Lena Goodwin Trimble Professor of Music and director of bands, described McBeth as “a wonderful colleague, mentor and friend. Through his composition, conducting and teaching, he impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. His sharp wit and engaging smile endeared him to everyone he met. We are all better musicians, teachers and people for having known Dr. Mac. His passing leaves a huge void.”
Dr. McBeth is survived by his wife, Mary; sister, Laura Fay Thaxton; brother, Harold McBeth; daughter, Laura Murphy, and her husband, Todd; son, Matthew McBeth, and his wife, Susan; and three grandchildren: Kate, Joe and Carolyn.
His funeral service will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 2 p.m. in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Arkadelphia. Family members will receive guests in the church fellowship hall following the service. Memorial gifts may be sent to Ouachita Baptist University, OBU Box 3754, Arkadelphia, AR 71998, or given online at www.obu.edu/give.