Arts News

DFW classical music writer Chris Shull dies following illness

DFW classical music writer Chris Shull dies following illness

Chris Shull, Charla Sanderson
Chris Shull with his wife Charla Sanderson. Photo by Lisa Stewart

Dallas-Fort Worth arts writer and classical music lover Chris Shull died on October 4. He was 55.

Shull most recently worked at The Dallas Symphony Association for six years, from 2010-2016. Prior to and following that position, he'd been a longtime arts writer for a variety of publications including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Dallas Morning News, and The Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

He was also a founding member of The Met, an alternative weekly that published in Dallas from 1994-1997, where he served as arts editor and classical music critic.

Shull reviewed dance and classical music — including the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition — as a freelance critic for the Star-Telegram before he went to work for the DSO. He often reviewed multiple performances per weekend at Bass Hall, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and other venues. 

Shull was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on March 30, 1962, and was a 1985 graduate of Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, where he majored in music.

Friends described him as a colorful, larger-than-life personality with a robust love for life.

"He was a one-of-a-kind, crazy, cat-loving, joke-cracking guy who wore his sunglasses at night and during the day and at all times, and a guy who everyone loved, especially his amazing wife, Charla," says Denise Neil, with whom he worked at The Wichita Eagle, in a Facebook post. "He was a musician and a lover of the arts and an incredible writer."

He was known for his booming voice and ribald interviewing style, said Kim Harwell Jones, who worked with Shull at The Met.

"He sat in the desk across from mine and he was really loud," she said. "One of my first days there, he was on the phone, and every other word was 'motherfucker' this and that, and then at the end of the call, he said, 'I love you mom.' That was his mother."

Jones said he embodied "the most amazing yin and yang."

"He loved the Indie 500 and he loved opera," she said. "He loved classical music and partying. And he had a profound passion for classical music that was so infectious, it would win you over. I was never a classical music fan, but I could listen to him talk about it for hours. He would make you interested. 'If this dude is so into it, I’ve got to be missing something.' He was amazing like that."

He also loved the ladies, Jones says. "That was such a cool thing — to him, every woman on the planet was a 'fabulous babe,'" she says.

Shull was married for 17 years to Charla Sanderson, whom he met in Kansas, where she worked in the city's Arts Department.

"He had moved back there and was the hot new critic in town, and I thought he was incredibly cute," she says.

According to Sanderson, he'd been in the hospital for a while when his condition took a turn for the worse. "I got a call from the hospital and they said you need to get in here now, so I was able to be there when he left," she says.

Shull's other survivors include a sister, Angela Jones.

Sanderson says there will be no official memorial. "We're unconventional that way, but I hope that everybody will celebrate Chris in the way he loved to live and laugh," she says. "I hope friends get together and celebrate Chris with a drink."