Ben Keaton, the long-time music director of the Durham Savoyards and Long Leaf Opera, passed away on the afternoon of Jan. 11, following a brief hospitalization. We join his many colleagues, friends, admirers, and former students in mourning his departure from our midst. Details will be added here as they become available.

Meanwhile, among the first tributes to arrive is this one, from Jim Schaeffer, currently head of The Center for Contemporary Opera:

“Benjamin Keaton, the co-founder of Long Leaf Opera, died yesterday at the UNC Hospital, I’m very sorry to report.

“Long Leaf was quite unique in that it only presented operas originally written in English. The rep was primarily from the American classics from composers such as Moore, Still, Thomson, and Menotti. They also commissioned and premiered operas by Joel Feigin, Chandler Carter, Caroline Mallonee, Justine Chen, and Amy Scurria.

“I was privileged to be the Executive Director of Long Leaf for almost five years before joining CCO. Benjamin and his partner of more than 50 years, Ranny Umberger, were completely devoted to Long Leaf and its mission.

“Benjamin received many honors in his long life. He was named a Distinguished Alumni of the East Carolina University School of Music, a trustee of the year at Opera America, and Man of the Year by the Durham Kiwanis Club, among others.

“He also founded the Durham Savoyards and taught for many years at North Carolina Central University.

“We will miss him very much. RIP, Ben.”


A very short obit is here.


The funeral will be at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 19th, at St. Philips Episcopal Church , 403 E. Main St, Durham.