American composer, conductor, teacher and freelance violinist Ralph Shapey was born in Philadelphia on 12 March 1921. He studied violin from the age of sixteen with Emanuel Zetlin, served in the war, and then studied composition with Stefan Wolpe in New York. He joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1964, teaching composition and founding the Contemporary Chamber Players. His students included Terry Winter Owens, Deborah Drattell and Ursula Mamlok.
Some listeners found his music difficult, with its Schoenberg and Wolpe influences, but he was a force to be reckoned with in American music, and was awarded a McArthur Foundation Grant of US$ 400,000.
Ralph Shapey died in Chicago, Illinois, USA on 13 June 2002, aged eighty-one.