The Kennedy Center Logo

Jubilation Overture

Default Profile

Composer: Robert Ward

Robert Ward, Pulitzer-Prize winning composer and distinguished teacher at some of this country’s finest music schools, was born in Cleveland in 1917. As a boy, he sang in choruses, studied piano and harmony, and made his first attempts at composition in high school. He went on to study at the Eastman School of Music and The Juilliard School.

Ward served in the U.S. Army during World War II, composing for and touring with an all-soldier revue, organizing a jazz ensemble, leading a band in the Seventh Infantry Division, and winning a Bronze Star for meritorious service during a Japanese attack on the Aleutian Islands. He returned to Juilliard after the war and completed his course work in 1946; he served on the Juilliard faculty for the next decade. While acting as managing editor and director of Galaxy Music Corporation and Highgate Press from 1956 until 1967, Ward established his reputation as an opera composer, particularly with The Crucible, which earned the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics Circle Award.


In 1967, Ward left New York to become Chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. From 1979 until his retirement in 1989, he taught at Duke University. He died in Durham, North Carolina, in April 2013 at the age of 95.


Ward’s creative and pedagogical contributions to American music have been recognized with numerous honorary doctorates and awards; in 2011, he was named an Opera Honoree by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest award for achievement in opera.


Jubilation Overture,” according to Robert Ward, “demonstrates the influence of my association with jazz during my army experience, which included a swing band that I wrote and arranged for. Jubilation Overture was composed during my Seventh Infantry Division’s participation in the Philippines and Okinawa campaigns. The piece reflects the optimism about the early ending of the war that we felt following the capitulation of the Germans rather than the combat conditions in which I was living.”