Michael Mason


Michael Mason died peacefully in his sleep at 83, with a book in his lap. He had a rare, curious mind, and a loyal, loving, generous heart. He was a natural teacher, and a lifelong student of anthropology and history.

He was born in 1939 in New York City, and grew up in Pound Ridge, N.Y. His mother Clarise was a piano teacher, political activist, dancer, and singer. His father Jerry was a writer, editor, and publisher of photography books, including “The Family of Man.”

Michael began playing guitar and writing songs when he was 8. At 22 he had two short stories published in the Evergreen Review, and had finished an album on Columbia Records, produced by Mitch Miller. He wasn’t happy with the record, and declined to have it released. His songs were recorded and released by Burl Ives, Frankie Laine, and Bud & Travis. He wrote and published four children’s books, “Casey’s Cove,” illustrated by John Hanna; “Willie” and “Clyde of Africa,” both collaborations with photographer Ken Heyman; and “The Book that Jason Wrote,” illustrated by Don Bolognese. He edited “The Country Music Book” in 1985.

He was a good friend of conceptual artist and critic Brian O’Doherty, and was involved with his work, “Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, Mounted Cardiogram.” Michael was greatly involved with Yoko Ono’s major work at the time, “The Stone,” at the Judson Gallery in New York City in 1966. He contributed repetitive four-channel sound forms, which added greatly to “The Stone.” 

He met Jemima James, they wrote songs together, performed and worked as staff songwriters for Famous Music, the music publishing arm of Paramount. Michael always had an interest in theater, and inspired by Jemima’s song “Billy Baloo,” he began to write a musical around the song’s character. It was set in a Colorado Rocky Mountain silver boomtown in the 1800s.

Mike and Jemima had two sons, singer-songwriter Willy Mason in 1984, and film and animation director Sam Mason in 1987. When the boys were young, the family lived in Tarrytown, N.Y., where Mike was hired by the New York City Board of Education to do ergonomic research; he became a leading U.S. expert on computer monitor health hazards. He provided test data and exposure recommendations included in the development of the Swedish MPR2 monitor standard, which became the European Community standard.

The family moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1992. Michael worked on his musical, “Billy Baloo,” for over 50 years, and wrote a new song for it shortly before he died. 

He leaves his immediate family, his sister Judy Mason, in-laws David Borden, John Borden, Spook James, Sara James-Rilleau, Nancy Borden, Leslie Borden, and Joanna Borden; nieces and nephews Molly Kozma, Justine Underhill, Vic Munoz, Natalia Munoz, Teresa Munoz, Andres Borden Munoz, Ana Gabriella Borden Munoz, Annie Schwab, Peter Schwab, Zak Borden, Abigail Borden, Reuben James, Blue James, Michael James, Jesse James, Lily James, and Jesse Rilleau; along with lifelong and recent friends.