Michael J. Budds, MU musicologist, scholar and philanthropist, died peacefully in his East Campus home Thursday morning. He was 73.
The last of his immediate family, Budds wrote a number of acclaimed books on music history and styles and was the first musicologist to be inducted into the Missouri Music Hall of Fame.
In 2019, he donated $4 million to the MU School of Music to create the Budds Center for American Music Studies as a way to carry on his legacy.
Originally from Illinois, Budds graduated from Knox College and the University of Iowa before serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He came to MU in 1983.
During his 37 years at MU, Budds taught thousands of students. His undergraduate and graduate courses in music history, appreciation and bibliography were a rite of passage for many.
Specifically challenging was a class for freshman music majors called “Introduction to Music in the United States.” MU piano performance major and former student Danny Singh commented on the rigor of the course.
“It was absolutely bonkers to me, but the information stuck because he screamed it in our faces,” Singh said.
He recalled the monologue-style lectures that Budds gave at 8 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Budds would get increasingly loud as he shouted information above the music that was playing.
“He just stood and talked, that’s all he did,” Singh said. “Having students sit in the front row so he could call on them, kind of putting them in the hot seat. It was really funny and so engaging.”
Other colleagues and students used equally passionate language to describe the music professor.
“I always loved being in his classes because it was infectious,” said Kyle Stegall, an alumnus and MU voice professor.
“As a student, I always had this impression of just how passionate he was about what music was as a cultural time stamp.”
Working with Budds since 1996, Julia Gaines, director of the MU School of Music, also attested to his intensity and quirky character.
“He was always hard on the students,” Gaines said. “I told my students ‘Well, you’re going to love Dr. Budds and hate Dr. Budds at the same time.”
She mentioned that his classes often started as early as 7:30 a.m.
“But boy, he made you think and he made you write and sometimes he made you mad, but you learned how to develop your own voice,” Gaines said.
As his colleague, Judith Mabary remembered the love and attention Budds gave to his students, not just their work load.
“He was above all, a scholar, a lover of music and a lover of students,” Mabary said. “He always wanted the best for his students and would push them to try to achieve that.”
The devotion to this teaching and his students was legendary, but Gaines said he was also quite fond of his pets.
“Teaching was kind of his life, next to his little dogs,” Gaines said. “Jinx was the longtime one I remember, and Max was the most recent one.”
Mabary said the names he gave his dogs always contained the letter “x” to honor American cornetist Bix Beiderbecke.
“But Ella was his favorite, though,” Gaines said. “Anyone who knew him knows his favorite of all time was Ella Fitzgerald,”
As a teacher, Budds wanted his students to listen to music with as little bias as possible.
“As a musician, he’s had such a unique and powerful impact on me,” Stegall said. “He gave me this gift of being able to experience music without judging it.”
Stegall said he tries to channel the open-hearted, open-minded teacher every day in his own teaching and observation of music.
Ricky O’Bannon also took music history classes with Budds during all four of his undergraduate years at MU.
O’Bannon said Budds would tell students during the first week, “You must understand music on its own terms, and you must judge music on its own terms.”
“To me, it was a way of saying, don’t close the door on a genre of music that you don’t understand and don’t think you like.”
Students of Budds said his impact led them on a path of both self-discovery and ambition.
“That man taught me how to think about music,” said O’Bannon, a 2009 graduate and now director of content for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl.
“I feel like I spent as much time with him outside the classroom, talking about music and life, as I did inside the classroom,” O’Bannon said.
“I would certainly not be doing what I’m doing now if he had not taken that time investing in me and teaching me how to appreciate music through the lens of history.”