Professor Danlee Mitchell, long time Center for World Music board member and friend and advocate of world music, turns 80 on October 5, 2016. We at the CWM celebrate his career, honor his contribution, and wish him a very Happy Birthday. Here’s a little about him and his accomplishments for those who may not know.

Danlee seems to have been destined to live a life of music. Raised by parents who were themselves both accomplished musicians, he began his music studies at a very early age. His life took a strange and wonderful turn when he attended the University of Illinois in 1959 as an undergraduate and met the American maverick composer and instrument builder Harry Partch. That began a long and wonderful collaboration that lasted until Partch’s death in 1977.

As one of the world’s foremost performers and conductors of the music of Harry Partch, Danlee was caretaker of the famous Partch Instrument Collection. He was responsible for producing, managing, and directing performances of Partch’s music across the United States and in Europe. Professor Mitchell assumed leadership of the San Diego State University-based Partch Ensemble in late 1974, and led it until 1989, when all of the Partch instruments were gifted “on permanent loan” to New Jersey’s Montclair State University.

  • Click here to read a personal tribute to Danlee Mitchell by Lewis Peterman, CWM Board President and CEO, on the occasion of Professor Mitchell’s 80th Birthday.

Jon Szanto and Danlee Mitchell

Danlee and Jon Szanto, Partch Ensemble member, 1982

Danlee had spent the summer of 1958 with Partch in Evanston, Illinois. During that time he organized an ensemble of musicians for a recording and filming of Partch’s U.S. Highball (now available on Innova 400). The group also recorded Partch’s Ulysses at the Edge and San Francisco Newsboy Cries. In the Fall of 1958, Mitchell performed in The Bewitched. Then, in 1959, Mitchell became a graduate assistant to Partch and Jack McKenzie at the University of Illinois. Between 1959 and 1962 Mitchell managed and performed in premiers of Revelation in the Courthouse Park, Water, Water and many of the smaller chamber works of Partch. During the Summer of 1963, Mitchell spent time with Partch in Petaluma, California. During that time, And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma was recorded, with Partch and Michael Ranta. 1968 saw Danlee performing in the film The Music of Harry Partch. Then in 1968-1969 he was ensemble manager, music director and conductor for the influential Whitney Gallery retrospective concert of Partch’s music and the world premier performance and recording of Delusion of the Fury. In 1972, Danlee was ensemble manager and music director, appearing in the film The Dreamer that Remains. Today, Mitchell is the head of the nonprofit Harry Partch Foundation and Archives.

Danlee Mitchell

Danlee with Javanese Gongs

Danlee had a successful career as a professor of music in the School of Music and Dance at San Diego State University. There he helped develop a world-class ethnomusicology program with another great American maverick, the distinguished ethnomusicologist and former president of the Center for World Music, Robert E. Brown.  At San Diego State, Mitchell served as director of percussion studies and as professor of music theory and world music. He conducted extensive ethnomusicological fieldwork in Asia (Indonesia and Turkey) and in Africa (Ghana and Togo) from 1980 until his retirement in 2001. As a distinguished performing musician, Danlee served for many years as a professional percussionist and timpanist with the San Diego Symphony, the San Diego Opera, and the San Diego Chamber Orchestra.


Danlee in Bali

Danlee Mitchell has been a San Diego institution for over 40 years—as the world’s leading authority on the music of American composer Harry Partch, as a Professor in the School of Music and Dance at San Diego State University, and as a distinguished board member of the Center for World Music. As a true renaissance man traveling the world over, he has lectured and performed Western, Asian, and African music in Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific, and across the United States.

It has been my distinct pleasure to have enjoyed many years being enriched as a colleague of Danlee, both at SDSU and through the programs and projects of the Center for World Music. I have found him to be an artistic visionary—one with a laserlike focus on promoting art, especially music, of the highest quality. On behalf of both SDSU and the CWM, I wish to thank Danlee Mitchell for his many and distinguished contributions to world music in San Diego.

Thank you Danlee for being such a valued colleague of mine and for being such a trusted friend of all San Diegans.

Gracias señor Danlee for your participation and assistance with the SDSU Javanese gamelan performances in Tijuana and Ensenada. I can’t believe you didn’t pull your back lifting the big gong on to the stage all by yourself!

Xie xie Xian Sheng Mitchell for your support and assistance with the numerous workshops, concerts, and classes in Chinese music that the SDSU students enjoyed over ten years. Confucius himself would surely have admired your devotion and industry!

Arigato Danlee-San for your assistance with concerts and classes of Japanese music in San Diego, both through the Center for World Music and through the SDSU World Music Concert Series. Haiku to you!

Kamsa hamnida “Professor” Mitchell for your support and assistance with the SDSU lecture/demo. by the distinguished Korean komungo player Jin Ki Kim. Did you really set up the risers all by yourself?

Danlee GamelanTerima kasih Pak Danlee for mentoring SDSU music students while they were conducting fieldwork for the first time in Indonesia, for your devotion to holding the SDSU and Canyon Crest Academy Javanese gamelan programs together over the years, and for performing public concerts with them as necessary. Aduh! What a gong player!

Suksma pesan Bapak Mitchell for comforting music students whenever they experienced the sting of culture shock in Bali. Thank God they all returned safely to Flower Mountain after all those cremations!

Teshekkurler Bay Danlee for your companionship in Turkey, and for all those fabulous videos of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Experiencing the whirling dervishes, the mehter band, and the Topkapi Palace just wouldn’t have been the same without you there!

Mamnoon Mitchell Khan for your support and assistance with all those workshops, concerts, and classes in Iranian classical music. I know that you have earned the lasting gratitude of the entire San Diego Iranian community!

Ndatenda VaMitchell for your encouragement and support of the mbira classes, workshops, and recitals. I am confident that the Shona ancestors are looking down on you with pride, nay, with gratitude for sharing their precious sacred tradition with Americans!

Akpe “Professor” for initiating the SDSU African Music Program and for patiently mentoring SDSU music students while they discovered wondrous cultures in Africa, of Ghana and Togo. I only wish I could swing those hips as well as you!

Kiitos Mr. Mitchell for helping to raise funds to purchase dozens of Finnish kantele zithers that university and K-12 music students throughout San Diego have enjoyed for many years. Surely no other city in America has access to so many kanteles!

Thank you Danlee for putting San Diego on the world map with Harry Partch’s unique musical instruments and musical compositions, for co-directing the SDSU World Music Program for over 10 years, for co-directing the SDSU and CWM World Music Concert Series for over 10 years, for co-directing national-level summer world music workshops under the auspices of The College Music Society and the CWM and The SDSU School of Music and Dance for over 10 years, and thanks too, Danlee, for continuing to rediscover the beauty and fascination of world music along with me—as a teaching colleague, as a performing musician, as an arts administrator, and just as an explorer of the worlds of music.

Danlee Mitchell at Indonesian Sunset Gamelan Recital

Thank you Professor Mitchell for being such a wonderful friend and supportive colleague. We in San Diego have greatly enjoyed your visionary leadership, your endless support, your helpful assistance, your optimistic encouragement, your tireless industry, and your profound devotion to music in our city on the Pacific. And, when you finally leave America’s Finest City for your retirement island in Puget Sound, we shall truly miss having such a trusted friend right across town.


—Lewis Peterman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Music and Dance, San Diego State University


Celebrating Mbira Month

Mbira Month is a 30-day, global celebration of a Zimbabwean traditional musical instrument called the mbira. Mbira Month provides an international platform for celebrating and sharing traditional spiritual aspects of Zimbabwean Shona culture with all humanity. As both a musical instrument and a type of classical music, mbira is a “telephone to the spirits” associated with centuries-old cultural practices and religious beliefs. It is a vehicle for communicating deep human spirituality, both inside modern Zimbabwe and around the contemporary world.  The Center for World Music celebrates Mbira Month by sponsoring and coordinating a series of events in San Diego and in Japan—lessons, meditations, public concerts, informal presentations, and an informal get-together for mbira players in Southern California. See events here.

—Lewis Peterman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Music and Dance, San Diego State University