Robert Garfias

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  • Born: 22 Sept 1932, San Francisco

Robert Garfias is professor emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and was one of the early pioneers in the field of Ethnomusicology.

Born in San Francisco in 1932, he earned his BA in Anthropology from San Francisco State in 1956. That same year, he entered UCLA's newly-established PhD program in Ethnomusicology, where he was advised by Mantle Hood, among others. Garfias began learning gagaku from individuals at the Tenrikyô church in Los Angeles, and the following year met Kishibe Shigeo, a visiting professor at UCLA from the University of Tokyo, who helped him arrange for UCLA to acquire its own set of gagaku instruments; those instruments remain in the UCLA Musical Instruments collection today. Kishibe also helped put Garfias in touch with gagaku court musicians in Japan, who trained him in gagaku during an extended fieldwork stay in Japan. Garfias returned to UCLA in 1961, and founded the UCLA gagaku ensemble, teaching students the way he had been taught in Japan - by oral transmission, and not by following written notation.

In 1965, Garfias became the first person to graduate from UCLA with a PhD in Ethnomusicology. He was succeeded as head of the gagaku ensemble by Togi Suenobu.

Garfias would later serve at least one term as president of the Society for Ethnomusicology, and was bestowed the Order of the Rising Sun in 2005.


  • Wan Yeung, paper given at "Roundtable: Oral Histories of UCLA Ethnomusicology," Society for Ethnomusicology Southern California and Hawaii Chapter annual conference, 24 Feb 2018.