Barker, John Walton

Barker, John Walton


BROOKLYN, N.Y.—John W. Barker, emeritus professor of history and writer on music, died on Oct. 24 at the age of 86.

He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Oct. 7, 1933, to John W. (Jack) Barker and Evelyn Doty Barker. On his mother’s side he was descended from a Mayflower bondservant, while on his father’s side from a Virginia-derived, Kentucky-based family of tobacco plantation owners. His ancestors fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars—the latter on the Confederate side.

Barker received his M.A. (1956) and Ph.D (1961) at Rutgers University and spent three fellowship years (1959-62) at Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. before joining the faculty of the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he served until retirement in 1999. He was dedicated to the history of Medieval Europe, with teaching and research specialities in Byzantine, Crusading, and Venetian history and civilization, producing books and articles in these fields. He participated in conferences at home and abroad, giving Outreach courses, and he lectured widely. He and his wife traveled extensively and, for a good decade, he led educational tours to Turkey, Greece, Italy, and especially Sicily.

All his life, Barker was passionately devoted to classical music and opera, and to recordings of them. He amassed a collection of 120,000 records and was, for 62 years a staff reviewer for The American Record Guide, while writing for other musical outlets. Bypassing negative collegial attitudes, he regularly wove music into his historical teaching and pioneered in creating a multimedia, interdisciplinary course titled “Music, the Arts, and History.”

He wrote extensive music criticism for local Madison journals, and since 2001 was A staff reviewer for Isthmus. For over three decades he was a regular broadcaster on recorded music for WHA/WERN Public Radio, and for the past 18 years was a monthly host on WORT’s “Musica Antiqua.” He has also given regular presentations at his residence, the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center.

Since retirement, he published a history of the Pro Arte Quartet and two books on Richard Wagner’s relationship with Venice. He has been an active member of a number of local musical groups including the Madison Savoyards, the Madison Early Music Festival, and the Handel Aria Competition. He was a co-founder of UW Opera Props and between 1981 and 2006 produced 61 issues of “The Prompter,” extended journals for the University opera productions.

He sang in several local choirs including the choir at the Assumption Green Orthodox Church in Madison for 47 years.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret (born Grabowski), and two children from a previous marriage, Christopher N. of Madison and Ellen C. (Anderson) of Portland, Oregon. He was predeceased by his sister, Barbara Decker.

Interment is in the Coughlin family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn where he joins his ancestor Thomas Joralemon (c. 1776—1850) and where his neighbors include Leonard Bernstein, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and other notables. Memorials may be made to the Green-Wood Historic Fund at to preserve this National Historic Landmark.

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