The Bay Area arts and culture community is mourning the news that Michael Morgan, longtime music director and conductor of the Oakland Symphony, passed away last Friday at the age of 63. This fall would have been Morgan’s 30th anniversary leading the orchestra.

During his career, Morgan influenced countless local musicians who performed under his guidance, as well as the larger Oakland community. He is remembered for his joyful laugh, passion for music education, and commitment to social justice.

“This is a terribly sad moment for everyone in the Oakland Symphony family. We have lost our guiding father,” said executive director Mieko Hatano.

Earlier last week, the Oakland Symphony announced that Morgan had to step down from conducting the anticipated Summer Stage free concerts at Brooklyn Basin because he had been hospitalized with an infection. Morgan had undergone a kidney transplant back in May. In his place, guest conductor John Kendall Bailey opened up the inaugural show.

Maestro Morgan did have several recent public appearances, however, including as a guest conductor of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on July 23, and at the Bear Valley Music Festival on July 29 and Aug. 1. 

“We are honored to have had that experience,” the Bear Valley Music Festival board of directors wrote in a statement “Michael has left an indelible imprint on Bear Valley forever and will be terribly missed.”

Oaklandside had the opportunity to speak with Morgan earlier this year about the Oakland Symphony’s work supporting social justice and amplifying diverse voices through his programming. He viewed his work as a way to bring people from all backgrounds together in a space where people of color have often been excluded. 

An outpouring of heartfelt messages about Morgan’s influence and impact has flooded social media over the past few days. Here are a few. 

Pull quote: “Michael had a high-pitched, sonorous, pealing laugh that would frequently burst into a conversation, sometimes at unpredictable junctures. It was joyous and silly; it was not remotely dignified. It didn’t sound like anything you’d expect to hear from the mouth of an orchestra leader.”

San Francisco Chronicle music critic, Joshua Kosman

“The master teacher, education advocate, visionary curator, mentor, and the man who took the sould, spirit, diversity, and social justice valor of Oakland and implemented intoan orchestra meant to serve the community.”

Musician, activist, and educator Kev Choice

“Can’t even begin to describe how much Maestro Michael Morgan meant for me and how much working with him impacted me, in way too many levels.”

Singer-songwriter, Diana Gameros

“He was commited to making sure symphonies were for everyone. And he truly understood how important that was in Oakland.”

W Kamau Bell

“His orchestra brought the world of music to Oakland, and Oakland to the world.”

Oakland Mayor, Libby Schaaf

“He was a musical visionary whose brilliance illuminated our community for 30 years.”

Oakland Ballet

“A gifted and generous musician who used his gifts to transform who and what classical music is for – who saw the arts as a chance to serve others.”

Piedmont Choirs

“An Ally. A Warrior. A Creator.”

Oakland Metro

“Right now, my brain just can’t imagine Oakland without Michael Morgan. I know I’m not alone.”

Adam Theis, director of Jazz Mafia

“May the beauty of his legacy continue to inspire us.”

San Francisco Opera general director, Matthew Shilvock

Correction: Matthew Shilvock is the general director at the San Francisco Opera.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.