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Thurlow Lieurance

Thurlow Lieurance

Musician, composer, educator.  Born: March 21, 1878, Oskaloosa, Iowa.  Married: Edna Wooley, April 17, 1917.  Died: October 9, 1963, Boulder, Colorado.

Thurlow Weed Lieurance was encouraged by his father to be a pharmacist but he chose to pursue a musical career. It was fortunate that he did because his symphonic compositions, his teaching abilities, and his interest in the music of the American Indian brought him international fame and increased greatly the knowledge about a Native American art form.

Lieurance was born in Iowa but he lived there only briefly. His youth was spent in southeastern Kansas and his serious musical career began as a bandsman with the 22nd Kansas Volunteer Regiment during the Spanish American War.

He studied at the Cincinnati College of Music, taught school, directed town bands, organized Chautauqua programs, and toured with his musician wife, Edna Wooley Lieurance, throughout the United States.

In 1911 he went to Montana to visit his brother, an Indian Service physician. There he became fascinated with Native American music and instruments and that fascination led to innumerable compositions, including his best known piece, "By the Waters of Minnetonka," first recorded in 1914. More than 40 different artists and groups recorded that particular number, from Madame Schumann-Heink to Glen Miller.

Lieurance said that Schumann-Heink always made it the third from the last of songs on her program, saying that during an evening's singing she liked to give her audience a "universal favorite." He also commented that of the rhythm versions he liked Miller's best. "The work itself is a perfect vehicle for interpretation. It just seems to roll on when played-it's a perfect vowel."

For a time, Lieurance was on the music faculty at the University of Nebraska. From 1926 to 1945 he was Dean of Fine Arts at Wichita University (now Wichita State University) and took that school's music program to national prominence. He continued to compose-one Wichita reporter believed that he wrote one symphonic work each year he was on the faculty-and to gather additional material on America Indian music and legends which he believed were the richest field for research and composition.

Thurlow Lieurance died in 1963 and left a rich legacy to American musical history. His unique research collections, including more than 1,500 records of Native American music, reside in the Smithsonian Institution for the use of future scholars in both ethnology and musicology.

Entry: Lieurance, Thurlow

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: January 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.