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James Elwin McCray dead at 86

March 29, 2024
James Elwin McCray
James Elwin McCray

James Elwin McCray, music professor and administrator, choral conductor, and composer, died March 3 at his home in Fort Collins, Colorado, following a period of declining health. He was born February 27, 1938, in Kankakee, Illinois, and received degrees from Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He earned a Ph.D. degree in music from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Before arriving in Fort Collins, he was a member of the music faculty of the University of South Florida, Tampa, and chairman of the music departments at Longwood College, Farmville, Virginia, and St. Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana. From 1978 until 1988 he was chairman of the department of music, theatre, and dance at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, from which he retired as Professor Emeritus of Music. 

McCray composed and published over one hundred choral compositions that were utilized in vocal ensembles in public schools, churches, and universities—many of them commissioned by these organizations. He received professor of the year awards from the honor societies of two universities, was awarded the Mellon Prize for distinguished contributions to scholarship, and was recognized for excellence in teaching by the Colorado State Alumni Board. An active church musician during his career, he served both Protestant and Catholic churches for decades. Additionally, he conducted Laudamus, a civic choral ensemble, and authored three books and numerous professional articles. From November 1976 through December 2016, he wrote a monthly column for The Diapason, “Music for Voices and Organ,” reviewing new choral music and reintroducing other anthems appropriate throughout the liturgical year. 

As a university administrator, McCray was a leader who planned for the future and found innovative solutions to the changing climate of higher education. He was a strong and vigorous advocate for his departments and worked to broaden his departments’ reputation. A particular asset of his leadership and community building was his continuing success at hosting distinguished musicians, scholars, and composers from around the country to interact with students and frequent, gracious entertaining of the Fort Collins choral community at his home. 

James Elwin McCray is survived by his wife, Joanne Campbell, and his children by his previous wife, Chris: son Matthew McCray of Los Angeles and daughter Kelly McCray of Tampa; and step-children Emily Lefler of San Diego, Bradley Lefler of Los Angeles, and predeceased by his stepson, Scott Lefler. A celebration of life was held April 6 in Fort Collins. Memorial gifts should be directed to the future James E. McCray Music Scholarship, which the family hopes to eventually endow to support conducting students in the CSU Department of Music. Checks should be made payable to the Colorado State University Foundation, Post Office Box 1870, Fort Collins, Colorado 80522, or made online at advancing.colostate.edu/give.


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