Joan Beckow (née Beckman) was born on January 1st, 1933 in La Grange, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Although no one in her immediate family was musically inclined, it was clear from an early age that she had an aptitude for music. Her mother took her to Chicago to buy her first piano. When Joan was 9 years old, her mother passed on, profoundly affecting her life, and in turn, her perspective as a composer.
Joan, her father, and brother moved to Los Angeles a few years later, and after high school, she enrolled in the UCLA music program. As a student in the early 50’s, Joan composed several musicals for the theatre department, where she became a close friend and collaborator of UCLA contemporary, Carol Burnett. Before marrying Jack Beckow and moving to Canada in the mid 60’s, Joan had a stint in NYC, living and performing with Burnett and a few other UCLA music grads. She returned to the West Coast where she earned a teaching credential at San Diego State University. Joan taught music in California public schools, while music-directing and composing for theatre companies and choirs.
After moving to Vancouver, Joan had two children, David & Suki, and worked as a composer and music director for a number of Canadian theatre companies. In the early 70’s, she began directing and mounting several of her own original musicals in Vancouver, starting with “A New Suit for the Emperor” and “Seven At A Blow”. She hired her new friend, and soon-to-be 40+ year musical collaborator, Wendy Bross Stuart as assistant music director and co-pianist. Wendy would become Joan’s primary arranger and editor, and one of Joan’s biggest champions throughout her lifetime.
Later, Joan earned a Music Therapy degree from Capilano College, and became a long time faculty member. She continued to build her prolific catalogue of musicals, choral works and stand-alone pieces inspired by Jewish liturgical text.
Joan did not seek celebrity, rather focusing her energy on family and community. She continued to play and write music until her hands would no longer allow. She passed on peacefully in Vancouver on January 13th, 2021 at age 88. Our hope is that the Joan Beckow Legacy Project will keep Joan’s incredible work alive to inspire musicians and music-lovers for many years to come.