Sad News: John Bush Jones

Jan. 13, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I write to share with you the sad news of the death of John Bush Jones, a member of our faculty for over two decades in the Department of Theater Arts.  “JBJ”, as he was known, was an enthusiastic teacher, talented director, and accomplished scholar. He leaves behind his son Carson, daughter-in-law Dawn, and grandson Braden, as well as many friends and colleagues.

JBJ was born in 1940 in Chicago and received his bachelor’s degree in Speech (Theater) from Northwestern University in 1962, followed by his PhD, also from Northwestern in 1970.  He arrived at Brandeis in 1978 after teaching in the English Department at the University of Kansas.  For many years, John taught a course on the American musical, which was very popular on campus in large part due to his reputation as a live wire with detailed knowledge of his subject, critical insight, and a palpable love of his subject. His accomplishments in teaching were recognized in 1996 when he received the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

JBJ was a talented director, directing myriad productions including “Ruddigore,” “Uncommon Women and Others,” “She Loves Me,” and Sondheim’s “Assassins.”  He was an active participant in and committee member of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, including directing the Region 1 Festivals for two years.  In 1990, he received the recognition as Outstanding Director, New England Regional Festival, American College Theatre Festival.

JBJ was the author of many articles and wrote theater criticism for several newspapers and magazines.  He also published six books, four after his retirement from Brandeis in 2001, including, Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theater (published by Brandeis University Press).  At the time of his death, he had completed two books that are yet to be published. His scholarly activity focused on the way American musicals and popular song were shaped by and shaped the historical environment.  Although not a formally trained historian, JBJ devoted himself to primary research in unpublished sources, was deeply committed to detail, and to, as his colleague Steve Whitfield shared, “presenting it in an engaging, extremely readable, and radiant way.”

I would like to thank Steve Whitfield, Claudia Novack, Rebecca Gruber Cooper, and Jocelyn Wilk for sharing their memories of JBJ with the Provost’s Office staff as we composed this letter.

A memorial service is being planned for later this spring. Please join me in extending condolences to JBJ’s family and friends.


Lisa M. Lynch, Provost