Dwight Gustafson

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Dwight Gustafson
Dwight Gustafson, October 1993
Dwight Leonard Gustafson

(1930-04-20)April 20, 1930
DiedJanuary 28, 2014(2014-01-28) (aged 83)
Resting placeGraceland Cemetery, Greenville, South Carolina
EducationBob Jones University, Florida State University
EmployerBob Jones University
TitleDean of the School of Fine Arts
PredecessorKarl Keefer
SuccessorDarren Lawson
SpouseGwendolyn Adams Gustafson
Childrenfour, including David Gustafson

Dwight Leonard Gustafson (April 20, 1930 – January 28, 2014) was an American composer, conductor, and dean of the School of Fine Arts at Bob Jones University.


Gustafson was born in Seattle, Washington to Leonard Gustafson, a meat dealer and lay preacher, and Rachel Gustafson, a pianist, harpist, and artist. His childhood home was on Lake Sammamish, and he graduated in 1948 from Queen Anne High School.[1]

Despite early violin training, Gustafson was attracted to a career in art and design. As a sophomore at Bob Jones University, he was asked to make sketches for a production of Cyrano de Bergerac and ended by designing the sets. In 1954, shortly before graduating from BJU with an M.A. in music, he was flabbergasted to be asked by the then-president, Bob Jones Jr., to become dean of the School of Fine Arts. Gustafson was 24.[2] Eventually he also earned a D. Mus. in composition from Florida State University, and in 1960, he was selected as one of ten young conductors to study at the Aspen School of Music.

Gustafson quickly proved himself a competent administrator who brought to his position a working knowledge of art, music, and drama. He also regularly conducted campus choirs and the Bob Jones Symphony Orchestra, especially in its annual opera productions. As a composer Gustafson was best known for his sacred choral compositions and arrangements, although his more than 160 works included five film scores,[3] a string quartet, Encounters (a violin concerto), and numerous extended compositions for chorus and orchestra, including Three Psalms for Chorus and Orchestra (1989) and Words of Passion and Resurrection (2002). "Fantasia for a Celebration" was commissioned by the Williamsburg (VA) Symphonia as part of the city's 300-year celebration in 1999.[4] In December 2006, Gustafson premiered a one-act opera, Simeon, about the blessing given by Simeon the Righteous to the Christ child (Luke 2: 25-35).[5]

After Gustafson retired as dean following forty years of service, Bob Jones University named the Gustafson Fine Arts Center in his honor.[6] In 1999, he was awarded the Order of the Palmetto by then-Governor Jim Hodges. Gustafson continued to conduct occasional programs at BJU until 2010,[7] as well as remaining active as a conductor of high school all-state choirs and orchestras and conducting church choir clinics.[8] In 2012 he published brief devotional memoirs as A Brighter Witness: Conversations on the Christian and the Arts. Gustafson died of complications from liver disease on January 28, 2014.[9]

Gustafson's successor as dean of the School of Fine Arts, Darren Lawson, noted that because Gustafson was 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m), people looked up to him both "figuratively and literally... He acted, designed sets, sang, composed, conducted. He did it all. He really was a Renaissance man." And Lawson noted that while Gustafson advocated excellence and high standards in music, he also had a strong sense of humor.[10]


  1. ^ Obituary, Greenville News, January 31, 2014.
  2. ^ Gustafson recalled, "Some of that was not too smart, but the university had its needs, and we all pitched in." Greenville News, December 13, 2006.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Gustafson described writing for the BJU film Red Runs the River in "Composing for a Celluloid Taskmaster," Music Journal, 21:8 (November 1963), 56-57, 71.
  4. ^ In 2002, BJU presented a retrospective concert of Gustafson's works including Fanfare and Celebration, earlier composed for the Greenville (SC) Symphony (and also played by symphonies in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky), "Fantasia for a Celebration," selections from feature-length films with live music, several shorter choral works, a movement from his violin concerto, Encounters, and a piece commissioned for the concert, Words of Passion and Resurrection, for chorus and orchestra with narrator. Music Now, the newsletter of the Southern Composers League.
  5. ^ Gary Hyndman, "Operatic veteran and novice collaborate to produce 'Simeon,'" Greenville Journal (December 1, 2006), 65, 67.
  6. ^ BJU website Archived 2009-05-11 at the Wayback Machine. At his death, Gustafson was the longest-serving dean in the history of Bob Jones University. Obituary, Greenville News, January 31, 2014.
  7. ^ Ann Hicks, "Verdi's opera 'Rigoletto' returns to BJU", Greenville News[permanent dead link], March 11, 2007. In 2007, Gustafson conducted a fifth series of performances of Rigoletto. "Gustafson recalls that his first 'Rigoletto' at BJU...starred Sherrill Milnes, later to become one of the preeminent American Verdi baritones of the late 20th century. 'I was 30 years old and Milnes was 26,' Gustafson says with a laugh. 'Many years have gone by since then.'" Following the curtain calls at the end of a performance of Samson et Dalila on March 13, 2010, the supertitle announced that this would be Gustafson's final performance conducting opera on the BJU stage. (The performance won second place in the National Opera Association's 2009-2010 video competition. NOA website.) On May 7, 2010, during the BJU Commencement Concert, Gustafson conducted the premiere of his three "Songs of Deliverance" for chorus and orchestra in memory of three late friends, Walter Fremont, Joan Mulfinger, and Gunter Salter.
  8. ^ Abe Hardesty, "Gustafson is known for musical arrangements: BJU's 'Doctor Gus' is still tuned in to an active lifestyle", Greenville News[permanent dead link], December 13, 2006.
  9. ^ Obituary, Greenville News, January 31, 2014. He was survived by four children, sixteen grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
  10. ^ Greenville News, January 29, 2014, 1B.


  • Turner, Daniel (October 2001) [First published 1997]. Standing Without Apology: The History of Bob Jones University. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press. ISBN 978-1-57924-710-2.
  • Gustafson, Dwight (November 2012). A Brighter Witness: Conversations on the Christian and the Arts. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press. ISBN 978-1-60682-051-3.

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