PORTLAND, Ore. -- James DePreist, one of the first African-American conductors and a National Medal of Arts winner, died Friday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., his manager Jason Bagdade said.
DePreist, 76, had been in and out of the hospital since a massive heart attack in March that was followed by open-heart surgery, his wife, Ginette DePreist, told The Oregonian newspaper.
DePreist was director emeritus of The Juilliard School's conducting program in New York. He was the Oregon Symphony's music director from 1980 until 2003, transforming it from a small, part-time group into a full-time nationally recognized orchestra with 17 recordings. He also led orchestras in Quebec; Monte Carlo; Tokyo; and Malmo, Sweden.
The Oregon Symphony will dedicate its weekend performances to the charismatic conductor known as "Jimmy."
"We are talking about a man with an international career, who achieved many things on international stages," Oregon Symphony conductor Carlos Kalmar said.
DePreist was born in Philadelphia in 1936. According to his website, he studied composition with Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2005, President George W. Bush presented DePreist with the National Medal of Arts.
DePreist was the nephew of Marian Anderson, the contralto whose 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a landmark moment in civil-rights history. Though he was a pioneer in terms of African-American conductors, he downplayed that aspect of his career.