Raymond “Ray” Gill
GILL – Raymond Vincent “Ray” Gill, age 85, of Grand Rapids, passed away on Sunday, October 30, 2011. He was born on April 5, 1926 in Lorain, Ohio where he graduated from high school in 1944. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the 76th Infantry Division and participated in The Battle of the Bulge being awarded the Bronze Star. After being discharged from the military in 1946 he enrolled in Murray State College and graduated in 1950 with a degree in Music Education. He spent several years in Nashville TN, teaching in the public schools, playing in the symphony, recording, and eventually obtaining his Master of Arts Degree from Peabody/Vanderbilt University. After several years he was offered a position with Grand Rapids Public Schools where he taught music at Union High School, Burton Junior High School and Northeast Junior High School. In 1970 he received his Education Specialist Degree from Michigan State University which led to his heading up the Department of Jazz Studies at Grand Rapids Junior College (GRCC) where he stayed until his retirement in 1988. Ray was a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra from 1957 to 1963. He founded and directed the Ray Gill Orchestra in 1959 which became a fixture of the West Michigan jazz scene. During his jazz career, Ray played with such great names as Lionel Hampton and Tommy Dorsey. Always looking for ways to make jazz music more available to the public, Ray along with Betty Forrest began to produce and promote annual jazz concerts featuring nationally known artists. Those efforts resulted in their founding the West Michigan Jazz Society in 1986 for which Ray served on the Board of Directors for many years and served as chairman of the society’s Education Committee from 1986 – 1992. During this time he developed the “Jazz in the Schools” program where he shared his love of jazz with students of all ages. Beginning in 2000 he served as president of the Musician’s Union for several years and was a member of Michigan’s much loved Scottville Clown Band. Ray was also selected as Jazz Musician of the Year for 2003. His work and his life were a testament to the belief that jazz is America’s most original art form and deserves support and recognition as such. Ray is survived by his wife of 46 years, Helen; sons, Mark Buddy and wife, Colleen, Keith Gill and wife, Chris; grandchildren, Meghan and Kellan Buddy and Valerie and William Gill. Also surviving are his brother, Bryan Gill and his sister, Phyllis Gill; several nieces and nephews and his loyal friend, Don Green. A memorial service to celebrate Ray’s life will be held on Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 4:00 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 47 Jefferson, S.E. in Grand Rapids. The family will greet friends at the church following the service. For those wishing to send flowers the family requests that all arrangements be made through Rose Bowl Floral (616) 459-3329.