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Memorial Funds Honor Local Musician Nick Rudd

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Nick Rudd was a musician in Champaign-Urbana for more than three decades. He died earlier this year. Now his wife, Gina Manola, has established three memorial funds in his honor to benefit music in the area.

URBANA — Nick Rudd was a stalwart on the Champaign-Urbana music scene for decades. He died earlier this year.

Monday, on what would have been Nick’s 60th birthday, Nick’s wife Gina Manola announced three memorial funds for music in Champaign-Urbana in his honor.

The Nick Rudd Music Fund will support annual concerts through the University of Illinois’ Robert E. Brown Center for World Music called “The Nick Rudd Music Experience.”

Illinois Newsroom’s Brian Moline spoke with Gina Manola about these memorial funds and about Nick Rudd’s love of music. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Brian Moline: To start things off, I’d like it if you could tell me a little bit about about Nick, about his love of music, and just how that was such a big part of his life.

Gina Manola: Nick has been a musician, really, his whole life. He started playing guitar very young. Music is just what I think, spoke to him, and allowed him to express himself in a way that nothing else quite did. And he was so completely immersed and dedicated in the exploration of music. His curiosity was so expansive, and he was really fearless. His musical output, anyone could attest to, is so broad, and he would really, really study music and and try to figure it out from the point of composing, to perfecting his instruments. It’s what connected him to the world, and I think how he processed and connected to the world.

BM: And then, maybe more specifically, then about his connection to the School of Music at the University (of Illinois), and the Sudden Sound concerts that you specifically mentioned (in a news release) were something that he really enjoyed.

GM: Nick and I attended several Sudden Sound concerts, Nick performed with Jason Finkelman, who is the organizer of those concerts. Nick and Brian Reedy, who together formed Water Between Continents, an incredible guitar and drum combo that did improvisational jazz, they would work together, putting this music together through an improvisational format that then would turn into composed music as well.

Jason had first seen Water Between Continents when he arrived in Champaign-Urbana, and that’s when he identified Nick as sort of a kindred spirit, and someone who really loved improvisational music, jazz, avant garde, all of those things were things that Jason, through Sudden Sound concerts, as well as other concert series, has brought to the School of Music.

And Nick loved seeing those musicians that Jason brought through, musicians that wouldn’t normally come through Champaign Urbana, without someone like Jason Finkelman and the School of Music supporting that. So, Nick was really appreciative because it helped him access players that he’d only heard on records, to be able to see them up close, sometimes get to perform with them. It was really meaningful and exciting for Nick to to have the sun sound concert series.

So that was why establishing an endowment at the School of Music was really important to me as a way to honor Nick’s memory in a really authentic way. That sort of celebrates his spirit of inquiry, experimentation. Yeah, just that, that love of people coming together around music in a really sort of full hearted, celebratory, fearless way.

BM: And certainly those those concerts are one part of this of this endowment. But there’s also another part. There will be funds provided to the community as well, the Urbana Free Library, The Community Center for the Arts. Why was it important to you to include some some other organizations in this project as well?

GM: Nick, as many people know, was an avid reader. He loved libraries, and he was a patron of the Urbana Free Library. He worked in the library system in the University of Illinois. and he would often check records out from the library. Nick and I lived in Urbana for many years on Oregon Street, so being able to give back to an organization, like the Urbana Free Library, that meant so much to Nick, was another way to honor him and would do bring resources to the community.

I established that fund, and I established the initial gift in his memory to purchase the entire Luaka Bop, music catalog. It’s currently being cataloged and getting ready to be made public at the Urbana Free Library. I think they’re going to be announcing that soon. The Luaka Bop catalog, that was the record label that was established by David Byrne, who many people will recognize as the frontman for Talking Heads, and he’s a big world music champion. Because Nick loved music from all over the world, making sure that that catalog was available to people in the community was just a really fitting way of honoring his diverse musical interest. And something that I felt people would really enjoy. The fund will also help to support music programming. So I’m working with a couple of the staff members at the Urbana Free Library on developing some programming also, hopefully in the spring.

BM: And then, the other part of that, some lessons at Community Center for the Arts. I would imagine that’s an effort to try and get some some young people started in music.

GM: Right. The initial gift is covering a full year of music lessons. It’s a scholarship for two students, their complete lessons are covered for a year. And that was to, as you say, help support young people’s interest in music and the community. Champaign-Urbana has an incredible history of music, and helping to support that is something that I know was important to Nick. And I know he would be honored to know that young people are benefiting from being able to pursue their own love and passion for music through lessons at the Community Center for the Arts.

BM: As you look at this project, both in the short term, and in the long term, what are you hoping really comes out of this? What are you hoping the impact will be?

GM: I’ve been thinking about that question. I hope it will grow beyond what I can imagine in ways that inspire people down the road, where maybe somebody took lessons, or was supported by the scholarship, or saw a concert at the School of Music, or checked out a record at Urbana Free Library and felt inspired, felt like they connected to something that they didn’t even know was out there, that they didn’t even know that they needed, and encourages them to pursue music, and pursue community and share that.

And I guess, just keep paying it forward. I think that would really honor Nick, you know, because Nick has such a broad musical history. My short-term goals obviously are just to first honor him. It’s been difficult to lose someone, as you can imagine, in a pandemic, because so many people aren’t able to come together and mourn him. So, doing this has been a way to allow people to do that from a distance, to recognize him. He was a very important figure in Champaign-Urbana musical history who influenced many musicians. I think it’s important for communities to recognize and honor people who made such significant contributions in their communities, so the short term is just to be able to recognize him, to be able to catalogue all of his music. The Sousa Archives has expressed interest in his papers once I have everything archived, so he deserves that recognition.

And so short term, that’s sort of my goal. And I guess it’s also my goal long term, I think, just to keep his memory alive and and to keep it growing and evolving in different ways for different people.

Gina Manola and Nick’s stepson, Townes Durbin, have established three memorial funds in Nick’s honor. You can find more information about Nick Rudd’s music, and donate to these funds at nickruddmusic.com.

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Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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