He spoke and wrote of African civilizations as infinitely diverse moral, philosophical and aesthetic techniques. To know their complexity and class, he stated, required a “guerrilla scholarship” that mixed artwork historical past, anthropology, dance historical past, non secular research, sociology and ethnomusicology. This hybrid follow repeatedly took him out of the tutorial ivory tower and into rural Africa, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and hip-hop golf equipment within the Bronx. In all these environments, he was equally, and exultantly, at house.
He was born on Dec. 30, 1932, in El Paso. His father, Dr. Robert Farris Thompson, was a surgeon; his mom, Virginia (Hood) Thompson, was an area arts patron. Professor Thompson later remembered that on a household journey to Mexico Metropolis in 1950, throughout his ultimate yr of highschool, he heard mambo music for the primary time, and that this expertise immediately sparked his ardour for African tradition and let him know that, significantly within the type of widespread music, that tradition was in all places round him.
“Mambo,” he stated in a 1992 interview with the artwork historian Donald J. Cosentino that appeared within the journal African Arts, “became my ruling obsession.”
After commencement from Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, he entered Yale, the place he took quite a lot of humanities programs and practiced drumming, with ideas of pursuing a jazz profession. Throughout a two-year Military stint, he gained acclaim as a drummer in an Military expertise present; in 1959 he launched an Afro-Cuban-style percussion album, “Safari of One.”
He took a stab at regulation college, however he dropped out after a yr and went again to Yale to do graduate work in artwork historical past. There he studied with George Kubler, a historian of pre-Columbian Mexican and Aztec artwork, who approached his topic with the type of unquestioned respect that on the time was typically awarded in academia to European artwork.