Bernard Woma

Bernard Woma demonstrates talking drum.

From Rebecca Skinner Green

It is with a very heavy heart that we announce that Bernard Woma, long-time friend of BGSU, passed away on Friday (April 27) in Kentucky. Many of you know Bernard and/or attended or participated in his performances, workshops, and guest performances. His troupe Saakumu had already left for Ghana, and he had intended to follow mid-May. However, his battle with cancer was simply too much for him. He was a consummate performer, and performed non-stop until only a couple of days before he passed away, including having performed here at BGSU just two weeks prior. (Click for story.)On stage he was energized and empowered, by the music, the dance, the performance, the audience. He truly loved what he did and it lifted him up, and as it did everyone around him.

He touched the lives of an incredible number of people, in Ghana, across the US, and beyond. As Master Musician for the country of Ghana, who toured with the National Dance company of Ghana, Bernard was a talented musician, educator, performer, who was hard working and full of life — an ambassador for Ghana, its music and dance, and its culture. He founded the Dagara Music Center in 2000, in consultation with BGSU professors Steven Cornelius and Rebecca L. Green, with BGSU students being the first set of students to stay at the center after it was built. BGSU has either taken students to Bernard’s center in Ghana or invited Bernard to our campus 16 times in the last 18 years–the connections run deep. Sections of the interior walls of the DMC have been painted by various groups who have come to study there. BGSU’s painting, done by Gordon Ricketts, figures prominently. Cornelius, Green, and Ricketts have taken and/or sent students from BGSU and beyond to the DMC nine times since 2000, studying xylophone, drum, flute, and dance, as well as batik, weaving, blacksmithing, painting, pottery, and drum-making. The experiences there were life-changing.

Because not everyone could travel to Ghana, Woma toured the United States every year, first by himself and later with Saakumu, bringing their exuberant music and dance to audiences big and small, young and old. They entertained and informed at concert halls, colleges, high schools, elementary schools, libraries, and more. All the while, Woma earned a BA in International Studies (with minors in History and Arts Administration) from the State University of New York at Fredonia (2008), and two MA degrees in African Studies and Folklore & Ethnomusicology at Indiana University (2012 and 2015).

He gave 110% all the time, whether it be a performance for a packed house at Carnegie Hall with Yo Yo Ma, playing in conjunction with Maya Angelou, performing for Queen Elizabeth II or Nelson Mandela, welcoming President Clinton to Ghana, giving private lessons to President Obama’s children on their visit to his country, or entertaining and educating students at BGSU, or toddlers at the Wood County Public Library. In fact, over the years he has been an artist-in-residence, offering performances, workshops, and masterclasses, to BGSU’s community seven times since 2000.

Bernard was larger-than-life, to say the least. He was someone who periodically exploded into one’s world with his song and dance and goofy sayings, including: “Thank you for thanking me,” or “The cow never says thank you to the river,” or “Bad dancing never hurt the ground” (though he encouraged people to not hurt the ground too much), and “Every mistake is a new style!”

Bernard was Dagara not Asante. But the proclamation made when the Asantehene passed seems appropriate. “A great tree has fallen. A mighty tree has been uprooted. We would have saved you if we were able…”

There will be a tremendous hole made by the passing of this one individual — teacher, mentor, ambassador, friend.

For those who have asked, anyone interested in contributing to the fund raising money to help repatriate Bernard to Ghana, please see the funding site: https://www.youcaring.com/thewomafamily-1178227

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