KU Music mourns alumnus Brandon McCray, DMA ’15

LAWRENCE— The University of Kansas is mourning the death of music alumnus Brandon McCray. McCray died Sunday, April 19 after a two-week battle with COVID-19. Brandon was from Kansas City, he was 52.

McCray was a world-renowned gospel saxophonist and reverend, a dedicated educator, and a compassionate and honorable man. We will miss him and his many contributions to those around him.

McCray studied saxophone pedagogy at KU with Vince Gnojek, professor of saxophone, and received his Doctor of Music Arts in saxophone performance from the University of Kansas School of Music in 2015.

“Brandon McCray had a spirit that was ever optimistic and a determination that propelled him to realize the very best in everything that he pursued,” said Dean Robert Walzel, School of Music. “In my administrative role in the School of Music, I don’t often have the opportunity to get to know students on a personal level. However, I did get to know Brandon. Our discussions about music, saxophone players, gospel musicians, societal challenges of our time, and matters of faith are among my most cherished during the past decade at KU. His music moved me. His spirit inspired me. His memory will sustain me in the belief that what we do as a music school matters in helping students discover themselves and their place in this world, through music. KU is all the better because of the contributions, achievements, and love of Brandon McCray.”

McCray worked with music students at Schlagle High School on a regular basis and used his experiences to teach them. “I remember asking Brandon why he wanted to pursue a doctorate degree since he didn’t really need one to play gospel music, he replied ‘I’ve always wanted to get a doctorate degree from KU. How can I ask people from my community to pursue degrees at KU unless I have done it?’” Said Vince Gnojek. “Dr. McCray’s final lecture recital was particularly memorable. Swarthout Recital Hall was being remodeled, so Dean Walzel and Derek Kwan arranged for Brandon to perform his gospel music recital on the Lied Center stage. It was a momentous occasion. Brandon had a gospel choir and rhythm section on stage and more than 600 attendees from both the Kansas City African-American and KU campus communities.”

McCray regularly shared his insights with those around him. “I really liked Brandon. He and I did have lengthy conversations about all sorts of things: from music to more sensitive racial issues,” said James Barnes, professor emeritus of composition and University Bands. “If everyone had the grace and compassion that Brandon possessed in such large amounts, we would certainly live in a better place. Everyone liked Brandon; his positive, caring personality was unique.”

“He was the kindest, warmest person anyone could ever hope to meet,” Margaret Marco, professor of oboe, said. “I felt he enlightened us all with his tireless passion for the art form he loved best, which was gospel music.”

Prior to attending KU, McCray attended the Kansas City Kansas Community College as a music major, and was the recipient of a track and field scholarship there. Later, McCray continued his formal music education at Emporia State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Music Education. Desiring to go higher, he earned a Masters of Music Education from Wichita State University.

“His spirit, smile, and commitment to his art will never be forgotten,” said Eric Stomberg, professor of bassoon.

Dr. Brandon McCray University of Kansas Dissertation Performance