Percussion industry icon William F Ludwig II died in Chicago of natural causes on March 22, 2008, at the age of 91. His health had steadily declined for several years in the wake of major surgery for an aneurism and several strokes. Ludwig’s wife Marguerite predeceased him in 2002.
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Ludwig’s father (often referred to by the family simply as “Senior”) and his brother Theobold built the Ludwig & Ludwig Drum Company around the bass drum pedal they invented to meet the needs of professional drummers in 1908. (Theobold died in 1918, a victim of the nationwide flu epidemic.) Ludwig became the world’s largest drum company in the 1920s.
As a young man, Ludwig saw the fortunes of the American drum industry rise and fall. The advent of talking movies (putting theater drummers out of work) and the big crash of 1929 forced his father to sell the company to Conn in 1930. In 1937 William F Ludwig and William F Ludwig II founded another family-owned drum company. Conn’s lawyers made it clear that the Ludwig family was not permitted to use their family name, so the new company was named WFL.
Wm. L Ludwig II served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He reported to Lt. Peabody at Great Lakes Naval Training station just after Peabody had been chastised by an Admiral for the poor marching habits of their recruits. For the duration of the war, Peabody utilized Ludwig’s skill to train drummers in the art of military drumming. Thousands of soldiers learned to march to the beat of drummers trained by Ludwig, who reached the rank of Chief Petty Officer.
In 1955 Conn exited the drum business and sold the Ludwig name back to Wm F Ludwig II. Under his guidance, the Ludwig Drum Company once again became the world’s largest drum company. A milestone in the company history came in 1964 when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show with Ludwig drums. The resulting demand for Ludwig drums forced the family to add a night shift.
The Ludwig family sold the drum company to Selmer in 1981. Wm. F. Ludwig II worked as a consultant for the firm, and in his retirement spent more time perfecting his lecture/demonstration A History of Drumming in America. The presentation included a demonstration of the effects devices used by theater drummers utilizing the effects actually used in theater drumming by Senior. (Since he became physically unable to continue the lectures in recent years, son Wm F Ludwig III “B3” has continued the tradition.) In recognition of his educational efforts and general contributions to the arts, Capital University in 1987 awareded Ludwig an honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree
In his retirement, Ludwig demonstrated how integral a part of the percussion world he really was. He auditioned annually for the Wheaton Community Orchestra, earning the timpany chair year after year. Until quite recently he played timpani at church each Easter Sunday. (Son B3, commenting on his father’s passing on Easter Eve, said, “I guess the Lord needed a timpanist!”)
Though he no longer had a vested interest in the drum company, Ludwig for decades acted as a good will ambassador. He appeared regularly at major industry events such as The Chicago Drum Show and Percussive Arts Society conventions. In 1993 PAS inducted him to the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. His father was already a member, having been inducted in 1972. They are the only father-son members of this elite group with the exception of the world-famous Zildjian family.
Ludwig penned his autobiography in 2001, producing the first drafts on the manial typewriters he’d used for his correspondance for over 50 years. The book, The Making Of A Drum Company, was published by Rebeats Publications.
Ludwig is survived by son William F Ludwig III of Chicago (wife Lisa, daughters Maggie and Olivia), and daughter Brooke Crowden of Irving, Texas (husband Bill, son Will and daughter Marguerite).