Born as Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia, Professor Nketia is an ethnomusicologist and composer. He was born in Mampong, in 1921 as the only child of his parents. He attended Presbyterian Training College, Akropong. HE gained a government scholarship at the age of 23 which sent him to Britain’s University of London from 1944 to 1949. Over at the University of London, he studied linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies. In 1949, he began a three year study at Birbeck College, University of London, and Trinity College of Music, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1958, he attended the Columbia University, United States, on the ticket of the Rockefeller Fellowship to study musicology and composition.
He taught music as a professor at the UCLA and the University of Pittsburgh. He also lectured in many prestigious universities around the world, including Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan, City University of London amongst others. He was also a music professor at the University of Ghana, Legon. He also directed the International Centre for African Music and Dance and taught at the Presbyterian Training College, Akropong, serving as the Acting Principal in 1952. His music career, he achieved a lot. He introduced the use of more readable time signature in his compositions as an alternative to the use of duple time with triplets that was used earlier by his mentor and teacher, Ephraim Amu. This theory has proved useful to many scholars in transcribing African music. Apart from his compositions, he also authored over 200 publications, including ‘The Music of Africa’, a book that is recognised worldwide and has been translated into German, Italian, Chinese and Japanese.
Professor Nketia has won several awards in Ghana over the course of his career. Some of these awards include ‘the Companion of the Order of the Star of Ghana’, a ‘Grand Medal’ of the government of Ghana, the Ghana Book Award, ECRAG Special Honour award (1987), the DLitt (Honoris Causa), Ghana Gospel Music Award (2003), and the ACRAG Flagstar Award (193). He was also a Member of Honour of the International Music Council. On the international front, he received Cowell Award of the African Music Society; the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, for his book, the Music of Africa (1975); the IMC-UNESCO Prize for Distinguished Service to Music; the 1997 Prince Claus Award; and the Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the USA (2000).
The Nketia Foundation was formed in 2009 to ‘promote the conservation and development of Ghana’s Creative Legacy in contemporary contexts, and the use of the works of Emeritus Prof. J. H. Kwabena and other composers for the development and growth of music and culture’. On the 27 February 2012, Goucher College presented ‘Tradition, Creation and Life: A Celebration of Professor Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia and the Music of Ghana.’ Kwabena Nketia died on the 13th of March, 2019 at the Legon Hospital in Accra. He died after a short illness. He was accorded a State Burial at the Forecourt of the State House on 6th May, 2019 and was buried at the new Military Cemetery at Burma Camp.