I took an hour from grantwriting today to sit at the coffee shop in Williamstown and revel in the sociability of my hometown, before heading off to Boston, Arusha, Cape Town and possibly Ottawa over the next few weeks. I’d hoped to see some friendly faces and remind myself how lucky I am to live where I do.
Unfortunately, one of the friendly folks who dropped by had very sad news to deliver. KweYao Agyapon, musical director of the Williams College Dance Department passed away last weekend. He’d been struggling with illness for years and had been on medical leave.
KweYao was a percussionist, composer and teacher to several generations of Williams students. Under the leadership of Sandra Burton, the department has trained hundreds of students in West African dance and music – both Sandra and KweYao worked closely with Chuck Davis’s African American Dance Ensemble, and brought the energy, professionalism, creativity and rootedness of that company to the students they taught. I didn’t work closely with KweYao – he took over for my friend and mentor Gary Sojkowski, a remarkable musician who served as musical director for the Dance department until a stroke disabled him. But I’ve gotten to know KweYao over the past few years and have admired him as a musician and as a person.
Reading about KweYao online after receiving the bad news this morning, I’m filled with regrets. I knew about his work with figures in the African dance community, but I didn’t know about his career as a session musician with jazz greats like Booker T. Washington and Vernon Reid. Nor did I know about his inspiring work in the New York and New Jersey public schools with Artsgenesis, an organization dedicated to reaching hard-to-teach kids through the arts. When I last saw KweYao, I’d extended an invitation to dinner at my house, where I’d promised to cook Ghanaian food for him and his wife Wanda. If we had found the time, perhaps I’d have had the chance to hear about some of those chapters of his remarkable life.
Rest in peace, KweYao.