Composer dedicated life to building a better world

28 November 2011

KERIKERI, New Zealand — Russell Garcia, who has died at the age of 95, was an influential composer, arranger, and conductor, who dedicated his talents to promoting the teachings of the Baha'i Faith around the world.

In a career spanning eight decades, Mr. Garcia recorded more than 60 albums under his own name, and worked with stars such as Louis Armstrong, Charles Chaplin, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland.

Born in Oakland, California, on 12 April 1916, Mr. Garcia began writing and arranging music while still a boy. He composed for radio programs, for television shows including Rawhide, and films such as The Time Machine (1960).

A teaching post at the Westlake School of Music in Los Angeles also resulted in Mr. Garcia writing The Professional Arranger Composer. The book and its sequel "continue to be basic handbooks for anyone who wants to understand the process of arranging and composing," the music critic Don Heckman told the Los Angeles Times.

During the Second World War, Mr. Garcia fought in the "Battle of the Bulge" in Belgium.

In 2008, at the age of 92, Russell Garcia embarked on a concert tour of Austria, which was reported by the Baha'i World News Service.SLIDESHOW
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In 2008, at the age of 92, Russell Garcia embarked on a concert tour of Austria, which was reported by the Baha'i World News Service.

"This is absolute insanity, people shooting at strangers," the composer said, vowing that – if he came out of it alive – he would dedicate himself to world peace.

Mr. Garcia and his wife, Gina, joined the Baha'i Faith in 1955 and, from then on, devoted their lives to promoting its principles. In 1966, when he was at the peak of his musical career, they sold their home and possessions, bought a boat, and set sail, carrying the Baha'i teachings to the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

"Not many people have the chance to follow their hearts with no financial worries," Mr. Garcia later said.

The couple spent six years on their trimaran, The Dawn-Breaker, anchoring in – among other places – Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Tahiti. During their travels, they fell in love with New Zealand and settled there permanently.

Mr. Garcia continued to compose, arrange and conduct until the end of his long life. In 2005, the Los Angeles Jazz Institute honored him for his contribution to jazz. In 2009, he and his wife were awarded the Queen's Service Medal by Queen Elizabeth II. Together, they regularly volunteered their services to teach primary school children in New Zealand about spiritual qualities – using songs, stories and creative exercises.

On learning of his passing on 20 November, the Universal House of Justice recalled how Mr. Garcia also "devoted himself to the creation of a range of musical compositions as a means of spreading the light of Baha'u'llah."

His "prodigious efforts" in the application of artistic endeavor to promote the oneness of humanity were noted by the Universal House of Justice.

In an interview, Mr. Garcia once said. "We see mankind as one. So any goal that is not to help everybody is not a good goal."

"We've dedicated our lives to trying to build a better world," he said.