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Don Gillis (1912-1978) was a music producer, composer, and educator who worked with some of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century. Born in Texas, Gillis graduated from North Texas State University and Texas Christian University. He then worked his way to New York where he became the producer of the live radio broadcasts of the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. After Toscanini’s death, Gillis recorded a series of retrospective broadcasts called “Toscanini: The Man Behind the Legend.” Following his work in radio, Gillis took leadership positions at Interlochen Music Camp, Southern Methodist University, and Dallas Baptist University. His career ended with his untimely death while being the composer-in-residence and the founder/chairman of the Institute of Media Arts at the University of South Carolina.
In addition to his radio productions, Gillis is also well known for his compositions, which span all genres, styles, and instrumentations. Most notable are his works for band and orchestra, but he also wrote some operas and other compositions for vocal ensembles. His witty, tongue-in-cheek compositions were usually filled with jazz and be-bop riffs and were aimed to be enjoyed by both the performer and the audience. In addition to his musical works, Gillis wrote three books.
For further information on Gillis, please consult his archives housed at the University of North Texas, a website maintained by Gillis’ family, or a dissertation on Gillis’ band music by William E. Fry.