Bill Bolcom shines brightly in class full of stars

It was an illustrious group, Everett High School’s class of 1955. For its 50-year reunion, an illustrious class member will be coming home.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom and his wife, Joan Morris, will present a public recital Aug. 12 at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

While the name Bolcom may not strike a chord with Green Day or 50 Cent fans, it is a big name in the world of serious music – very big.

The Arts section of the Dec. 13 New York Times had a review of the world premiere of Bolcom’s latest opera, “A Wedding.”

Commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, “A Wedding” is adapted from Robert Altman’s 1978 movie of the same name. In his review, New York Times writer Anthony Tommasini called Bolcom “a prodigiously skilled composer.”

To lure Bolcom, who won the Pulitzer in 1988 for his “Twelve New Etudes for Piano,” and his talented mezzo-soprano wife to an Everett stage is a real coup.

“We started talking with Bill and Joan about this two-and-a-half years ago,” said Larry O’Donnell, an Everett historian, longtime educator and member of Everett High’s class of ‘55.

The event is being sponsored by the Everett Public Schools Foundation and will benefit an Everett High School scholarship fund. “As a class, we’re an entity, but we’re no legal entity,” O’Donnell said. The foundation’s nonprofit status will be used for the fund-raiser.

Ticket offers have been sent to class members. Of the class of about 550, about 60 have died, O’Donnell said. “About 100 people so far have sent in money to purchase tickets,” said O’Donnell, who expects sales to the public to begin June 1.

The performance is set for 8 p.m. Aug. 12 at Everett Civic Auditorium; tickets will be $30, $40 or $50.

Bolcom last performed here in 1991 with the Everett Symphony Orchestra.

“Bill can do anything on the piano, Dixieland, jazz, contemporary music,” O’Donnell said. Morris “is a superlative vocalist. They kind of specialize in songs of the first half of the 20th century.

“Bill does some piano solos, and I’m sure there will be some blues mixed in. He was quite a friend of Eubie Blake’s. If they perform as they did in ‘91 – it was just wow,” O’Donnell said.

On the faculty of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Bolcom is on the West Coast until May as a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

“We’ve had several really warm conversations,” said O’Donnell, who met Bolcom after the budding pianist moved to Everett from Seattle at age 11.

A child of a lumber family that fell on hard times in the 1930s, Bolcom lived on Rucker Avenue, went to North Junior High School, Everett High School and the University of Washington, where he earned his Ph.D.

The composer spoke to me by phone from New York in 2002. His opera “A View from the Bridge,” based on the work of the late playwright Arthur Miller, was to be performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Bolcom said he remembered Everett’s “sulfur fumes, pulp mills and shingle mills.” He’ll see a very different Everett in August.

O’Donnell’s class has two chances to see the master pianist. On Aug. 13, Bolcom is expected to perform an informal program at the reunion in the Everett Events Center ballroom.

“I always hate to brag, but we really did have a good class,” O’Donnell said.

Among the notables from their class of ‘55 is William Prochnau, a journalist and author of “Once Upon a Distant War,” the story of war correspondents in Vietnam, the novel “Trinity’s Child,” and “A Certain Democrat,” a biography of Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson.

The 2000 movie “Proof of Life” is based on Prochnau’s 1998 article for Vanity Fair magazine, “Adventures in the Ransom Trade.”

Tom Tiede, a Vietnam War correspondent, syndicated columnist and author of “Your Men at War,” was also in the class, O’Donnell said.

Another class member, Jack Holl, was chairman of the history department at Kansas State University and is writing a book about Dwight D. Eisenhower, O’Donnell said.

“If you turn back the clock, Everett High was the only game in town. There was no Cascade, Mariner, Kamiak or Archbishop Murphy,” O’Donnell said. “All those kids came to Everett, one big melting pot.”

“We grew up in a fabulous time,” he added. “The postwar boom was a time of optimism in the country. Life was relatively simple.

“Maybe I romanticize it after 50 years. It was just a different time,” O’Donnell said. “We were the luckies.”

With Bolcom on the reunion bill, they still are.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

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