Arthur Russell Custer
was born in Manchester, Connecticut on April 21, 1923. Custer demonstrated an
early interest in music, playing on a piano in the family home as a child. In
fifth grade he joined the Manchester Green Grammar School Band as a
drummer. Custer graduated from Manchester High School in 1940, and began
studying engineering at Hillyer Junior College in Hartford, Connecticut where
he graduated Hillyer with an Associate’s degree in Science.
World War II
temporarily interrupted Custer’s studies, and from 1942 until 1946 he served in
the U.S. Navy as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific, attaining the rank of
lieutenant junior grade. After leaving the Navy, Custer returned to college,
this time taking up the study of music. He graduated from the University of
Connecticut at Storrs in 1949, with a major in music education. Custer worked
his way through college by playing in a jazz band which, after he graduated,
continued playing together once a year until the 1990s.
rather than pursuing a career in music education, Custer began studying composition
at the University of Redlands in California. He studied under Paul Pisk at
Redlands, and was instructed in the twelve-tone technique of composition. He
graduated from Redlands in 1951 with a Master’s degree in Music. In 1952,
Custer took a position as Assistant Professor of Music at Kansas Wesleyan
University, becoming the head of the Department of Fine Arts in 1954. He left
Kansas Wesleyan in 1955 for a position as Assistant Professor of Music at the
University of Omaha, where he acted as Director of Bands, and also taught a
course on classical music.
Upon receiving his
PhD, Custer took a position as the Director of the Music Section of the
American School in Seville, Spain. He moved to Madrid in 1960 when he was given
the position of Supervisor of Music for the U.S. Air Force Dependent Schools in
Spain .During his time in Spain, 1960-61, he hosted a Sunday morning program,
“Music for Music’s Sake,” on Armed Forces radio.
returned to the United States in 1962, becoming the Assistant Dean for Fine
Arts at the University of Rhode Island. While in this position, he helped
organize the Festival of Contemporary Art at URI in 1963. Custer was also
active in the arts community at the state level, holding positions as President
of the Rhode Island Music Teacher Association, the Vice-President of the Rhode
Island Fine Arts Council, and the Vice-President of the Eastern Division of the
Music Teachers National Association. Custer left the University of Rhode Island
in 1965 to become the Dean of the Philadelphia Musical Academy. While in
Philadelphia, he also held the position of Vice-President of the Philadelphia
Custer moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where Custer became the Director of a U.S.
Office of Education project, the Metropolitan Educational Center in the Arts,
that developed arts centers and programs for children in public schools. He
also wrote the program notes for the St. Louis Symphony during his time there.
He remained in St. Louis until 1970, when he returned to Rhode Island to become
the Director of The Arts in Education Project for the Rhode Island Council of
the Arts. In 1973 he was named Composer-in-residence for the Rhode Island State
Council on the Arts.
died on September 17, 1998 at the age of 75.