I often celebrate the musical culture generated by the students, faculty, and staff at Wesleyan. Indeed, I’ve told prospective students to check out the music scene here if they really want to understand the personality of our school and to compare it with other places in which they are interested. I thrilled to hear Persephone Hall sing the national anthem at a football game, to listen to Sam Friedman ’13 play piano anywhere, or to marvel at the vocal ingenuity of our a cappella groups. I’m told that Eclectic still controls the music scene in Brooklyn (hence, the world), and I take great pride in the rock ‘n roll chops of Wesleyan’s Treasurer (John Meerts), Provost (Rob Rosenthal), head of the faculty (Gil Skillman) and dean for academic advancement (Louise Brown). Don’t even get me started on the all-star musicians in the Music Department! From the experimental to the traditional, they play with nuance and intensity.
This past week, we lost a storied voice in the chorus of Wesleyan’s music history. Bob Burnett died on December 7 at his home in Rhode Island. Bob and four other frosh were told to put on some entertainment for their fraternity in 1958, and they decided to become a folk band. While they were still undergraduates they had a #1 hit with their version of “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.”
Bob Burnett is at the lower left. After graduating Wes he went to Harvard Law School, and it looked like he’d left the music business behind. But more than three decades after that freshmen concert, the original Highwaymen started performing and recording again — and winning great praise! I started hearing about Bob and the Highwaymen almost on my first day on the job at Wes. They inspired friendship and devotion. They still do.
I took the photo here from Bob’s obituary in the New York Times. You can read more about the Highwaymen here and here.