Former IU faculty member James “Doc” Mumford, who directed the African American Choral Ensemble and the IU Soul Revue for more than 20 years, died April 12 of complications due to an extended illness. He was 82.
Mumford served as vocal coach and later as director of the IU Soul Revue and as director of the African American Choral Ensemble during his 30 years working with IU’s African American Arts Institute. The two singing groups are offered as classes through IU’s Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.
Mumford has one biological daughter and thousands of other children – his former students.
“He knew us by name,” Virginia Githiri, one of his former students, said. “He loved us all, and we knew it.”
Even after Mumford retired, he still attended the choir’s performances and encouraged the students, current ensemble director Raymond Wise said.
“He was very much a support for the choir,” Wise said. “Kind of like a father, godfather, stepfather, uncle, extended family member, whatever you want to call it.”
Mumford received many awards during his time at IU, including the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs Distinguished Inclusive Excellence Award, the Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching Award, the Groups Scholars Program Lifetime Achievement Award and the Bloomington Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award.
But Charles Sykes, executive director of the African American Arts Institute, said Mumford’s true success came from helping students realize their potential.
“His major accomplishments were really helping give meaning to the lives of students and helping them to learn and enjoy learning,” he said.
In addition to teaching and singing, friends of Mumford said he loved poetry, plants, cooking, fashion and spending time with his animals.
Darran Mosley, 42, met Mumford when he arrived at IU as a freshman in 1994. He said Mumford created an environment in his African American Choral Ensemble class that quickly felt like home.
“He fostered a community,” Mosley said. “And at that time, especially, we really needed a community of black students.”
Many couples, including Mosley and his first wife, even met and cultivated their relationships in Mumford’s class.
“His fingerprints on people’s lives are just unbelievable,” Mosley said.
Mumford’s friends, former students and family members flooded his Facebook page with posts in the days following his death. They shared their grief in hearing the news, but they also praised Mumford for his talents, thanked him for his positive influence and told stories of how he changed their lives.
Many said they would not have made it through their undergraduate years if it weren’t for him.
Richardo Wallace, 37, shares these sentiments. He said he would not have stayed at IU or graduated without Mumford’s guidance and support.
“I’d had a difficult time adjusting to Bloomington and distinctly remember him being able to put my mind at ease in a way it hadn’t been since I’d arrived on campus,” Wallace said.
Wallace said Mumford acted as a father figure for him and even stood in his wedding as his best man.
Many who knew Mumford said they will miss his smile, his humor, his wisdom and the stories he shared about his life and experiences.
“He was a person who didn’t meet any strangers,” Wise said. “He could meet anybody, talk to anybody, and before you knew it, you felt like you were best pals, you felt like you’d known him for 50 years.”
Wise, who is also a minister, said he and Mumford often prayed together as Mumford got older, in Mumford’s home, in the hospital and sometimes over the phone.
“When I grow up, I want to pray like you,” Mumford often said to Wise.
“When I grow up, I want to be like you,” Wise would respond.
Mumford attended the same church as Githiri, who lives in Bloomington. They often sat together in a row near the back of the church. Even with a cane or walker in his later years, Mumford was there, Githiri said. He sometimes sang a cappella solos during the services.
Mumford is survived by his daughter and granddaughter. A public memorial service will take place at 1 p.m. April 29 at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church in Bloomington.
“Even though the world has lost a legend, the reality is that he imparted so much into all who came in contact with him that he will never be forgotten,” Githiri said. “He just will not.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the date James Mumford died. He died in April. The IDS regrets this error.
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