It is with great sadness that we report the death of leading Washington musical figure Ben Hutto who died on September 29 after a brave, valiant battle with cancer. In Washington, he held the post of organist/choirmaster at St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square (the Church of the Presidents) where he conducted the professional St. John’s Choir and countless services. In addition, he was directed choir at the National Cathedral School where he instilled the love of music in many students. Famed television personality Stephen Colbert was a student of his at Porter Gaud in Charleston, SC and just recently apologized to him on national television for been a ‘difficult’ student. He went on to comment how Hutto took the time to pull him aside during his junior year.
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Ben went on to continue his studies in English and those pursuits took him to Emory University where he earned the Bachelor of Arts degree. He did further study at Westminster Choir College and at the Royal School of Church Music in England. Perhaps two great high points of these accolades was him being named a Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music in 1998 and just in 2013, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Theological Seminary.
His career as a church musician and music educator was quite impressive. Colleagues and educators looked toward his leadership in many instances. This led to him serving as President of the Association of Anglican Musicians (1988-1989) and the Royal School of Church Music in America (1999-2006). In his native Charleston he served as instructor and director of choral music at the Porter-Gaud School (Charleston) from 1969-1985 and at the same time, he was organist and choirmaster at the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul. Although he relocated to Washington in his latter years, his impact in Charleston is still felt. There he was a co-founder of the organ recital series for Piccolo Spoleto and was organist and choirmaster at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Charlotte.
His love for young, aspiring musicians was reflected in his tenure as director of choral activities and director of performing arts at St. Albans School for Boys and National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, DC since 1999.
Lisa Koehler, a member of the professional choir at St. John’s reflected about Hutto’s musicianship and his depth of knowledge.
“Ben’s knowledge and love of church music, liturgy, history, art, and literature was so vast, I sometimes thought of him as having occupied multiple centuries. When rehearsing a piece, he often touched on it’s historical context or compared it to a contemporary painting. I will miss these rich, interdisciplinary references. I will also miss his colorful hymn text embellishments on on the organ, his energy, optimism, wit, and friendship.” she shared. In recent months there have been several deaths that have shaken the world of choral and sacred music to its core: Norman Scribner, John Scott and Sir David Willcocks.
We now add the name of Benjamin Hutto, dying a few days short of his 68th birthday on October 4. Details of a memorial service for Ben Hutto on October 15 at Washington National Cathedral will be shared upon more information.
*A previous edition indicated that Stephen Colbert was a student at the National Cathedral School. Please note that he was a student of Hutto’s at the Porter Gaud School in Charleston. Many thanks to Mary Whitman for the correction.