Glenn Branca, Legendary Avant-Garde Guitarist and Composer, Dead at 69

Glenn Branca performs on stage in Paris in 2011.

Glenn Branca performs on stage in Paris in 2011. (Image credit: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

Glenn Branca, the famed avant-garde guitar pioneer, died Sunday night, May 13, at age 69. Branca had been suffering from throat cancer, according to a Facebook post from his wife, and frequent musical collaborator, Reg Bloor.

Though Branca never achieved great commercial success, his early symphonies for guitar, such as 1980's Lesson No. 1 and 1981's The Ascension, were an enormous influence on boundary-pushing rock bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. David Bowie even cited The Ascension as one of his favorite albums of all time.

Branca was also one-half—along with artist Jeffery Lohn—of the New York no wave band Theoretical Girls, which was active from 1977 to 1981. His orchestral works were performed by the London Sinfonietta, the New York Chamber Sinfonia, and many more. He also conducted a symphony of 100 electric guitars at the base of the World Trade Center in 2001, just months before the September 11 attacks.

Branca was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1948. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

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Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.