William S. Ashbrook Jr. ‘El Wacko’, 87, died March 31, 2009 at his retirement community in Denver. He was born in Philadelphia, PA, January 28,1922 and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University with degrees in English literature. He worked at Pinkham in 1939, Lonesome in 1940, Carter in 1941, and Zealand in 1942 with his wife Florence “Kitten” where they spent their honeymoon after being driven to the trailhead by Dick Trefry. Joe Dodge nicknamed him “El Wacko” after some antics he staged while working at Pinkham. He enlisted in the army on October 5, 1942 and joined the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, eventually serving with the 87th Service Company. He took part in the amphibious invasion of Kiska Island in the Aleutians off the Alaskan mainland, and then returned to Camp Swift before being deployed to fight in Italy in January 1945. During combat operations in Italy, he received the Bronze Star.

He taught humanities at Stephens College, English literature at Indiana State University and was Professor of Opera at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts before returning to Indiana State as Emeritus Professor. He became a word-class opera scholar and published three books on the subject, co-authored another, and was a contributor and editor of academic journals. He also translated operas from French and Italian. A fitting climax to his prolific career was having an international conference in 2002 dedicated to him and his work.

He leaves his son Willy Ashbrook, III, a sister Cia Wenzel, 5 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. Services were held at Parkplace for family and friends. Memorial donations may be made to Opera Colorado.


  1. James Koenig on August 9, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Bill Ashbrook was truly a “gentleman and a scholar.” His brilliant mind and sharp wit and great passion for music, for opera, and for life made him a very special human being. I first knew him as a lecturer for a summer program for singers and we stayed in touched after that time. As a scholar, he opened doors to treasurers of incite and information. As a friend, he touched my heart. I would say “rest in peace.” But Bill is probably busy questioning Donizetti and uncovering untold mysteries and having a good laugh telling the greats what people later did with their operas!

  2. Joel Lee on June 26, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    I met Bill Ashbrook in Bergamo in 1970. Beverly Sills had asked him to write the notes for her recordings of the three queens: Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux. He managed to get to performances of all three of them. The notes were informative and quite wonderful. It’s too bad someone didn’t publish them separately. It was wonderful being in Bergamo with him and seeing Donizetti’s house, the cathedral and baptistry.

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