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Robert (Earl) Witmer (b. in Kitchener) is a bassist and ethnomusicologist with research interests in North American and Caribbean music with a focus on Indigenous, Jamaican, and jazz music. Witmer also developed instructional material for the pedal steel guitar.
Witmer received a Bachelors and Masters of Music from the University of British Columbia in 1965 and the University of Illinois in 1970. He studied bass with J.P. Hamilton, the principal bass of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and played with the orchestra and various jazz groups between 1962 and 1965. In 1970 he taught at the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica during a year of doctoral field research on Jamaican popular music.
In 1971, Witmer joined York University, Faculty of Fine Arts where became the founding director (1972-1976) and co-director (1976-1988) with John Gittins of Canada's first program in jazz studies at the university level. In 1974, he was instrumental in the development of York University's ethnomusicology laboratory and archives. In 1985, Witmer directed the university's graduate program in music. In 1995, Witmer received the inaugural Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Teaching Award.
Witmer is the author of ‘The Musical Life of the Blood Indians’ (1982), editor of ‘Ethnomusicology in Canada’ (1990) and co-editor of ‘Canadian Music: Issues of Hegemony and Identity’ (1994).
He is a Professors Emeritus of the School of Arts, Media, Performance, and Design.
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2018/12/13 KCP. Added biographical sketch.