“I love [the harp], and I think everyone should play it. And that’s been my focus, really, is to try to influence more people to love it as much as I do.” —Samuel Milligan
Samuel Milligan (1932—2019) died on Tuesday, Aug. 27 in Brooklyn Methodist Hospital from esophageal cancer and respiratory complications. He was surrounded by loved ones and adoring musicians and harpists who played many of his own arrangements for him.
Miligan was best known for his harp method books and collections of arrangements, including Fun from the First, vol. 1–2; Medieval to Modern, vol. 1–3; and Vox Coelestis and Vox Angelica for organ and harp. He was also a seasoned harp technician, the founding editor of the American Harp Journal, and served on the boards of the American Harp Society and the Historical Harp Society.
“Harp Column interviewed Sam Milligan in 2008, on the heels of his Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Harp Society. Our headline for the interview was ‘Once in a Milligan.’ Never has a play on words been more true,” says Harp Column editor Alison Reese. “They broke the mold after Sam Milligan—he was one of a kind. His unique brand of intellect, creativity, and humor always hit just the right note. He was an expert at many crafts, yet humble and approachable. He was a legendary storyteller—occasionally off-color, but always entertaining. He will be deeply missed.”
Milligan began his harp studies with LaVerne Hodges Peterson and went on to attend what is now the University of North Texas. While working on his master’s degree in Denton, Milligan worked with Helen Hewitt, a Renaissance specialist who inspired his interest in early music. He continued his harp studies with Laura Newell in New York. He was a harp technician working at the Lyon & Healy showroom in New York City when he found himself at the first meeting of the American Harp Society. “I was at the origins of everything,” Milligan said in 2008. “If you live long enough, you’ll find you’re an original as well. It’s been a fantastic life. I have met some of the most fabulous people I could ever hope to know, and the world of the harp has given me that.”
Milligan was preceded in death by his life partner, Jesús Castellón. His ashes will be scattered in the Quaker Cemetery in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. A memorial celebration will be held at a later date to be announced.
Our 2008 interview with Milligan is available here.