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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Musician Willie Ruff On Lockbourne Air Base In 1949


Musician and educator Willie Ruffwas born in Sheffield, Alabama in 1931.  He was only 13 years old when his mother died. Relatives moved him north, where a cousin convinced him he should join the military. Forging his father's signature, Ruff was able to begin his military service at the age of 14. His commanding officer challenged him for misrepresenting his age, asking: "Does your mama know where you are?" When Ruff replied that his mama was dead the commander allowed Ruff to stay in the military. By 1948, he was stationed at Lockbourne Air Base, near Columbus, Ohio.

"Lockbourne Air Base was so special," says Ruff. "It was an unbelievable place."

It was also where he began playing with pianist Dwike Mitchell. They began a musical partnership which would last for more than 60 years as the Mitchell-Ruff Duo. Here Mr. Ruff tells of Lockbourne Air Base, an all-Black military community of more than 1000 men, including the Tuskegee Airmen and more than 100 highly skilled musicians.