Smithsonian Journeys Experts

Jonathan Overby

photo of Jonathan Overby

Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the United States, Jonathan Øverby began his career in radio as a student sports play-by-play announcer at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. A recipient of a Ford Foundation Academic Scholarship, Jonathan attended San Francisco State University, where he received most of his formal musical training in voice. Upon returning to Wisconsin, Jonathan, a lyric baritone, began performing extensively throughout Wisconsin, the U.S., and Europe with several recital tours in Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Poland. 

From 1994-2004 he served two terms as Vice-Chair of the Wisconsin Arts Board. Currently, he is the executive producer and director of Wisconsin's Official Annual State "Tribute & Ceremony," honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On September 9, 2007, Øverby aired the first live broadcast of a program he designed and created that became a new music program on Wisconsin Public Radio, called "The Road To Higher Ground with Jonathan Øverby, featuring world music with African roots and more. It airs Saturday evening and opens with a theme song written and composed by Jonathan featuring the Lighthouse Chambers Singers, a choral collective he conducted from 1993-2010. From 2000-2010, he also led the big band, Highway To Heaven.

Øverby, known as "Dr. Ø" is a lyric baritone, conductor, and ethnomusicologist, holds several degrees, including a Doctorate in Education from Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition, on July 1, 2013, University of Wisconsin Extension Chancellor Ray Cross conferred on Dr. Overby the prefix title of "Distinguished" Wisconsin Public Radio Broadcaster for his efforts as a radio producer, host, and for his community service statewide. 

From 2013 -2018, he served as a member of the doctoral faculty at Edgewood College,

Øverby's travels and research abroad have included independent excursions throughout the Caribbean, Scotland, Japan, Zanzibar, Tanzania, India, Ghana, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Cuba, Peru, and Morocco. He believes they informed him on "how one might better understand the human condition through studying varied sacred world music traditions, which may build bridges between diverse groups. Such experiences illuminate, enlighten and celebrate cultural diversity and the inclusion of marginalized groups, leading to a pathway of understanding, and a welcoming spirit of the so-called 'stranger" as a means of reducing human hatred."

On September 22, 2016, U.W. Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Cathy Sandeen presented Dr. Øverby with the "Wisconsin Idea" Award for his "outstanding contributions of service and education to society, and the quality of life in Wisconsin, the nation and the world." 

Dr. Øverby was inducted into Folk Alliance International's Folk DJ Hall of Fame 2022.  According to FAI Executive Director Aengus Finnan, the Folk DJ Hall of Fame “recognizes radio hosts who have made an outstanding contribution to the preservation, promotion, and presentation of folk music, and who have demonstrated and inspired leadership in the broadcast field.” Øverby, who has served as host and executive producer of “The Road to Higher Ground” at WPR since 1994, has spent his life performing, teaching, researching and promoting diverse genres of music. 

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