Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

April 10, 2003

Babatunde Olatunji, 75, a Nigerian drummer who helped introduce the power and intricacy of African music in the United States, died Sunday at a hospital in Salinas, Calif. Mr. Olatunji, who lived at the Esalen Institute in nearby Big Sur, died of complications from advanced diabetes, a daughter told The New York Times.

His 1959 album, Drums of Passion, was the first of African drumming recorded in stereo in an American studio. It introduced a generation to African music.

"He planted a seed that gave birth to the whole interest in African music in the United States," said world-music critic J. Poet of San Francisco. "Before him the drum was always kind of mixed into the background. After Olatunji the drum just really came blasting out at you."

Mr. Olatunji's deft slaps on the djembe and junjun drums infused aspects of American black culture with a sense of artistic pride in traditional African music, the critic said.

Mr. Olatunji founded the Center for African Culture, based in Harlem, in the late 1960s. He taught drummers and other artists, such as John Coltrane. Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart co-founded the musical troupe Planet Drum with Mr. Olatunji and credits him as a major influence. "We spoke the same language," he said. "It was about rhythm, the drums, and he was the godfather of this whole movement of communal drumming."

Mr. Olatunji was born in Ajido, a fishing and trading village in Nigeria. His band of drummers, singers and dancers evoked both the village's music and its masquerades, with figures dancing in elaborate costumes. He studied at New York University and soon formed an African-style ensemble that became his full-time occupation.

Mr. Olatunji's most recent album, Love Drum Talk, was released in 1997 and was nominated for a Grammy award.

Cecile de Brunhoff, 99, whose tale became the inspiration for Babar, the enchanting little elephant whose adventures captivated generations of children, died Monday in Paris, two days after suffering a stroke.

Mrs. de Brunhoff invented the tale of a little elephant as a bedtime story for her boys in 1931. They in turn told their father, painter Jean de Brunhoff, who illustrated the story and filled in details, naming the elephant Babar and creating Celeste, Zephir and the "Old Lady," who takes care of young Babar after his mother is killed.

Before The Story of Babar was published, Cecile de Brunhoff insisted that her name be removed from the book because she thought her role too minor, according to publisher Harry N. Abrams Inc.

A pianist, she was a graduate of the prestigious Paris music college, the Ecole Normale de Musique.

Jean de Brunhoff died of tuberculosis in 1937 at age 37. His eldest son, Laurent, carried on Babar's adventures, completing two books unfinished by his father and eventually devoting himself full-time to Babar, publishing dozens of books of his own.

Anne Gwynne, 84, who starred in sci-fi and horror films including the 1940 serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and Black Friday, died in Los Angeles on March 31 of a stroke following surgery.

Her film credits include The Black Cat, House of Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Doctor Rx, Weird Woman, Murder in the Blue Room and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome.

Leon Levy, 77, a philanthropist who gave more than $140 million to nonprofit institutions, died of a heart attack at his home in New York's Manhattan.

A hedge fund pioneer who advocated the practice of investing in troubled or even bankrupt companies, Mr. Levy joined the brokerage firm of Oppenheimer & Company in 1951 and went on to become a co-founder of Odyssey Partners.

His donations, often made anonymously and with little fanfare, included a $20 million gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a new wing. He donated more than $100 million to Bard College and gave money to the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton and Rockefeller University.

Robin Winks, 72, a Yale historian of the British Empire and authority on international espionage, died Monday in New Haven, Conn. He had suffered a stroke in September.

In five decades of teaching at Yale, Mr. Winks wrote 30 books and was a favorite lecturer for his colorful approach and intellectual energy.

He was an expert on the history of Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and traveled to most former British colonies to soak up local history and culture.

His passion for mysteries led him to write several books on espionage and detective fiction.

A Pulitzer-nominated 1987 book, Cloak and Gown: Scholars in America's Secret War," exposed the way American spy agencies recruited agents from the Ivy League.

Mr. Winks was a mystery book columnist for years for The Boston Globe and The New Republic.

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