AACM Pianist Ann E. Ward Dies at 67


Ann E. Ward (1949–2016)

(Photo: Courtesy of the artist/Facebook)

Pianist and educator Ann E. Ward, one of the most recognized female composers of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, July 18 at her home on the South Side of Chicago. She was 67.

Ward’s death was confirmed by her uncle, jazz vocalist Ben Farnandis.

A gifted improviser who was also an accomplished vocalist and African percussionist, Ward was born into a musical family in Chicago in 1949. Her career began as a concert pianist at the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University. After graduation from Kentucky State University with a degree in music composition, she began performing with the Ken Chaney Experience.

A tireless supporter of the Chicago arts community, Ward appeared frequently in productions with the city’s more prominent theater companies, including Steppenwolf and North Light, serving as pianist and music director. Later, she became an integral part of the AACM, especially as a member of the Great Black Music Ensemble, in which she performed boldly and brilliantly alongside vocalist Dee Alexander, reedist Douglas Ewart, trombonist George Lewis, flutist Nicole Mitchell, reedist Mwata Bowden and saxophonist Ed Wilkerson, among others.

Ward was a musician whose commitment to furthering the creative arts was matched only by her passion for educating and inspiring new generations of artists. She was a teacher in the Arts and Humanities Programs for the Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools on Chicago’s South Side, and served as Minister of Music at Chatham Bethlehem Presbyterian Church for more than 20 years. Ward also volunteered her time to serve as the director of the AACM School of Music on the campus of Chicago State University.

“I attribute my experiences in music and the arts to the wonderful people who have shared their knowledge, time, talent and support with me over the years. With God and my special ‘musical family,’ I have been blessed to sustain my self as a viable performer, educator and artist,” Ward wrote on the Great Black Music Ensemble’s website.

On Facebook, friends, colleagues and family offered condolences and expressed gratitude for the contributions Ward made to the Chicago creative music community.

“We lost one of the pillars of the AACM Chicago today: the gifted vocalist, pianist, teacher and administrator of the AACM, Mama Ann E. Ward,” wrote Art “Turk” Burton, a Chicago-based percussionist and AACM member. “She spent many years unselfishly giving of herself to the community and the AACM. I am honored to have performed with her on many occasions locally and internationally. I am sure she will be in the celestial orchestra doing what she does best.”

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