Shirleigh Moog, wife of synthesizer pioneer, dies at 82

Shirleigh Moog Pictured in a Moog Theremin Ad. Photo courtesy of The Bob Moog Foundation
Shirleigh Moog Pictured in a Moog Theremin Ad. Photo courtesy of The Bob Moog Foundation

Press release from The Bob Moog Foundation:

Shirleigh May Moog (nee Shirley May Leigh), ex-wife of legendary synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog, died of natural causes today at the John F. Keever Solace Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

Shirleigh was first introduced to her husband at a service sorority/fraternity social at Queens College, City University of New York, in 1956. The couple were married two years later and remained together for 36 years, with Shirleigh providing the stability needed to facilitate her husband’s inventive spirit. According to friends who knew the couple, her strong presence and sharp intellect were indispensable to his career.

Born on May 3, 1936 in New York City to Benjamin, a haberdasher, and Lillian, an office clerk, she was the third of four children.

Shirleigh received a Bachelor’s degree in education from Queens College in 1958, and married two weeks later. She moved to Ithaca, New York to join her husband as he pursued his doctoral degree at Cornell University. There she taught in a two-room schoolhouse to rural children in kindergarten to third grade. She was known as a strict, creative, doting presence to the disadvantaged population that she served. She stopped teaching in 1961, prior to the birth of her first child, and devoted herself to motherhood and to supporting her husband’s booming business, R.A. Moog, Co., of selling theremins and theremin kits, which she often assembled at the kitchen table.

The family grew in tandem with her husband’s career. The theremin business evolved when her husband invented the Moog synthesizer in 1964 after working on a prototype with composer Herbert Deutsch. The business grew in 1968 after the groundbreaking album Switched-on Bach by Wendy Carlos brought synthesis to the public consciousness, and evolved yet again with the advent of the iconic Minimoog synthesizer in 1970. By this time the couple had four children.

Shirleigh excelled at both raising their children, and doing the books for the early iteration of her husband’s company, all while entertaining a broad range of musician guests with her exceptional culinary skills and her naturally warm and engaging hospitality. Her recounting of this experience was published in her 1978 cookbook, Moog’s Musical Eatery.

One of the tributes on the back of the cookbook reads, “Shirleigh generates an enveloping aura of charm and sensibility among her guests, her sequential control of the evening pulsing a smooth waveform of food, friends, and conversation.” — Keith Emerson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer

A classical music enthusiast and supporter, Shirleigh joined her husband in co-producing Clara Rockmore’s Theremin record in 1975. She considered Rockmore, and many of her husband’s musical clients, as friends.

In 1978 the family left New York and moved to rural Leicester, NC, after her husband left his position as president of Moog Music, Inc. There, Shirleigh immersed herself in gardening, homesteading, and cooking as her husband started his new venture, Big Briar, Inc., making custom electronic musical instruments She served on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Symphony and the Community Advisory Board of public radio station WCQS.

The couple moved to Natick, MA in 1984 as Robert assumed the position of Vice President of New Product Research for Kurzweil Music Systems, which lasted until 1988. They returned to their residence in North Carolina the same year. During that time Shirleigh became a successful real estate agent.

In 1993, she combined her passions of healthy eating and cooking by publishing her second cookbook, A Guide to the Food Pyramid. She was a guest columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times cooking section.

In 1994, after 36 years of marriage, Shirleigh and Robert divorced. She did not remarry, and devoted herself to taking care of her grandchildren, volunteering for the local branch of the NAACP, serving as Vice-President of the organization for one term, and participating in race relation organizations and neighborhood associations. She was also active in the Unitarian Universalist Church. She remained an avid cook, reader, bird-watcher and gardener, achieving Master Gardener status in 1995.

Shirleigh is survived by her four children, Laura Moog Lanier, Renee Moog, Michelle (Joseph) Moog-Koussa, and Matthew (Lucy) Moog, and by her five grandchildren, Gregory and Yasmine Koussa, and Max, Charlie, and Eli Moog. She is preceded in death by her siblings Matthew, Mildred, and Sam, by her beloved son-in-law Paul Sylvester, and by her ex-husband.

A date for a memorial will be announced later in the summer. In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested a contribution to the NAACP, WCQS, or the Bob Moog Foundation.

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