The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Retired University of Wisconsin-Madison professor James Crow — famed geneticist, devoted viola player and classical music fan and philanthropist — dies at 95 in Madison. | January 6, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has sad news to report.

Professor Emeritus James Crow (below) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison died Wednesday, Jan. 4, in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Death came to Jim, who was living at Capitol Lakes Retirement Center, after a relatively short illness and because of congestive heart failure, according to several sources.

I will miss Jim. But I take consolation in that fact that Jim Crow was a man who lived a long, full and productive life until just before the end.

Jim was the model of someone who had lived the good life and had helped many others to  live the good life too. His great intelligence was coupled to an unfailing sense of humor, beauty, kindness and empathy that sustained him and inspired so many others.

Crow, a world-famous geneticist, stayed active in his academic field and in classical music until shortly before his death.

This past spring, he stood at the bar at Cherokee Country Club on Madison’s east side and ordered a double bourbon on the rocks we celebrated an award for WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra) founder Marvin Rabin.

He also held strong views and was unabashed about sharing them in public, including this Letter to the Editor of The Wisconsin State Journal about how the country could recover from The Great Recession.

Crow, sitting in a wheelchair, also appeared on stage (below) and delivered a light-hearted, self-deprecating remembrance of the Pro Arte String Quartet at the opening concert of its centennial season in October.


His death is sad news for Crow’s many genetics students around the nation and the world, and for the world of science.

But it is equally sad news for the local world of classical music, in which Jim, whom I knew personally and worked with, was an active participant and enthusiastic and generous supporter.

Crow had a life-long love of string, chamber and orchestral music, and he played viola for many years in the Madison Symphony Orchestra under maestro Roland Johnson (below).

Most recently, Jim also helped plan the centennial celebration of the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet (below, as it looked in 1940 when it was exiled on tour and emigrated from Brussels to Madison because of World War II). He  said the quartet was one of the major attractions that drew to him to Madison from his previous teaching position at Dartmouth College.

In fact, Jim even owned and played the viola that Pro Arte Quartet violist Bernard Milofsky had used before he had to retire from performing because of multiple sclerosis.

Jim was also a generous philanthropist who helped support the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and the UW School of Music, especially through youth education and community outreach programs. I am sure there are more causes he contributed to that I don’t know about now but will find out about in the future.

I cannot find a full obituary yet with information about memorials or survivors. But here is a link to the lengthy Wikipedia article about Crow:

And here is a link to the story about Crow’s death in The Wisconsin State Journal:

Here is what Madison Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) had to a say on his Facebook page about Crow’s death:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of Madison’s greatest treasures, Jim Crow. I have so enjoyed knowing this wonderful human being, and we have all benefitted in so many ways, because of his passionate enthusiasm for the arts. He was truly a renaissance man, and a warm supportive person. Madison will be a little more empty without his presence. May he rest in peace.”

Crow liked to celebrate his big birthdays with music. On his 75th or 80th, I can’t remember which, he sat in with the Pro Arte Quartet for the slow movement of the Bruckner String Quartet.

And here he is, below, celebrating his 90th birthday by performing a recital of violin-and-viola duets with fellow geneticist and violinist Melissa Wei. Along with the picture of that event (below), I have also included a link to the UW-Madison page about him:

And here are stories about the UW Evolution Laboratory that was named in his honor in 2009:

As more remembrances, news and reactions come it, I will post them:

In the meantime, please use the COMMENTS section of this blog to leave your own remembrances of and homages to Jim Crow. I am sure that members of his family and his extended family both in science and in music will see them and appreciate them.


  1. Jake,

    I was a model in a photo shoot @ the Capitol Lakes facility where Jim lived a year ago last summer. One of the female models was an official with the Madison Music Collective who invited me to attend a music program with her during the celebration concerning the black jazz pianist last year formerly on the UW-Madison faculty. While attending another concert @ Capitol Lakes, I’m sure I coincidentally met Jim and we briefly discussed the program we’d just seen. We exchanged business cards and I was surprised at the time to have encountered a scientist who was so well musically founded. He was indeed a true gentleman with a profound knowledge of music and a kind, gracious soul. I know he will rest in peace.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — January 9, 2012 @ 5:06 pm

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  3. Beautifully written and researched, as you always do so very well. Thank You.

    Comment by Barbara DeMain — January 6, 2012 @ 10:17 am

    • Thank you, Barbra.
      I appreciate your kind words.
      And I am glad that the Comment mode seems to be working again for you.
      Please tell John what fine piece of homage he wrote regarding Jim.
      Best to you,

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 6, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  4. It was a great privilege for me, a few years ago, to help fulfull a longstanding wish of Jim’s: to perform the Brahms “Zwei Lieder” for alto and viola. We presented them in a concert at Capitol Lakes, and his delight in the finished product was palpable. What a great asset to our community they were — both Jim and his late wife, Ann — and how we miss them!

    Comment by Kathleen Otterson — January 6, 2012 @ 9:36 am

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