William Bender, a former music editor and chief music critic for Time Magazine who wrote extensively about music in a career spanning more than 50 years, died of heart failure in Olathe, KS, a suburb of Kansas City, on Sunday, May 4, 2014, at the age of 83. During his tenure at Time Magazine from 1967 to 1978, Bender wrote cover stories about James Taylor, The Band, Merle Haggard, and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the rock opera by a then-young Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. He covered the deaths of both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and interviewed or reviewed performances by dozens of the most influential performers of the era, including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Leonard Bernstein, Elton John, David Bowie, Peter, Paul and Mary, Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa. But his first love and the primary focus of his criticism were always in the realm of classical music. Along with fellow critic Irving Kolodin, he was nominated for a Grammy in 1978 for Best Album Notes for a performance of Beethoven’s complete symphonies by the superstar conductor Herbert von Karajan. Bender was a writer for the BBC/WNET documentary on famed conductor Leopold Stokowski, which won an Emmy in 1971 and was co-author of The Tenors, published by Macmillan in 1974. Other cover stories at Time included one on the composer Johann Sebastian Bach and two on the most compelling and significant conductors of the period: Sir Georg Solti, longtime musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Sarah Caldwell, the first woman to conduct New York City’s Metropolitan Opera and the founder of the Opera Company of Boston. He also wrote extensively about the celebrated soprano Beverly Sills. Before joining Time, Bender was a music critic, sometime theater critic, and general cultural reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and its successor, the World Journal Tribune, from 1962 to 1967. He started his career at the Associated Press in Connecticut and New York, from 1956 to 1962, where among other things he covered state affairs and national politics, including the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles where President John Kennedy was nominated, and the opening of Lincoln Center in 1962. After leaving Time Magazine, Bender spent the next 15 years in academia, including as a professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, then as director of journalism at Long Island University and finally as a journalism professor at the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. After he retired from teaching in 1996, he volunteered with the Peoria Civic Opera, later Opera Illinois, both on the board and as their editor. He moved to Kansas City in 2009 to be close to family. In later years, he was a contributor to the American Record Guide, reviewing new classical recordings and, in 2011, reporting on the opening of Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a $326 million dollar project that received national attention. Bender was born in New York City on May 30, 1930, the only child of William I Bender Sr., a choirmaster and organist from Wheeling, West Virginia, and Louise Carhart Bender, a homemaker. He grew up in Westchester County outside of New York City, in both Yonkers and Mamaroneck and graduated from Mamaroneck High School in 1948. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and music from New York University in 1952 and serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he returned to New York to attend the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, from which he received a master’s degree and where he later taught as an adjunct professor. Bender’s wife, Sally Jameson Bender, a public relations executive who headed a federal task force on women in business during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, died of cancer in 1994.
He is survived by his two daughters Margaret Bender, a professor of anthropology and linguistics at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC and Sarah Bender Reilly, an attorney with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, his son-in-law, Bryan Reilly, and two grandchildren, Benjamin Bender and Phoebe Reilly.
A memorial service will be held this summer in Illinois. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made to the William Bender Award for Excellence in Journalism at Bradley University, to be given annually to an outstanding journalism student. For information, please contact Jennifer Gibbs, Senior Director of Development at Bradley University 309-677-3442 or firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>.