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Born 10 October 1950, in Owensboro, Kentucky, James Baird studied percussion performance at Memphis State University with George Frock and William Youhass and later at the University of Illinois (B.M. 1972) with Thomas Siwe. He did his graduate work at Northwestern University (M.M. 1973) and joined the Blackearth Percussion Group. His compositions reflect his interest in music for percussion instruments.