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One of the world’s leading orchestral clarinetists, Larry Combs was born on December 31, 1939, in South Charleston and began studying woodwinds by age 10. Three years later, he was playing regularly with the Charleston Symphony (now known as the West Virginia Symphony). At 16, he became the orchestra’s principal clarinetist.

Combs’s teen clarinet ensemble earned a spot on the popular network television show The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour, but the group finished second. After graduating from the Eastman School of Music, Combs joined the New Orleans Philharmonic. He was drafted and, after basic training, was sent to West Point where he spent three years playing with the U.S. Military Academy Band. In 1968, Combs became principal of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and in 1974, he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Four years later, he was made the orchestra’s principal clarinetist. Combs can be heard on 20 years of Chicago Symphony records in virtually every important solo clarinet passage. He has won two Grammys for Best Chamber Music Performance. Throughout his 30-year career in Chicago, Combs made numerous notable appearances, both solo and with musical greats such as Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis.

In 1995, he appeared in Geneva, Switzerland, as a member of the World Orchestra for Peace, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. In addition to his work with the symphony, from which he retired in 2008, Combs is a noted jazz player and was a founding member of the Chicago Chamber Musicians and the Smithsonian Chamber Players, and served on the faculty at DePaul University. He is a clinician for the G. Leblanc Company, maker of the Opus II clarinets he helped to design, and the Larry Combs models of clarinet mouthpieces.

Combs was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

This Article was written by Michael Lipton

Last Revised on December 14, 2017


Cite This Article

Lipton, Michael "Larry Combs." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 December 2017. Web. 13 December 2018.

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