Our First Lady of Jazz: Celebrating Mary Lou Williams

Sunday, April 14, 2024
Our First Lady of Jazz
4:00 pm
Our First Lady of Jazz: Celebrating Mary Lou Williams
Location: Duke Chapel
Duke University Chapel Choir, NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and Guest Artists

As part of Duke University’s Centennial Celebration, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, Duke Arts, and Duke University Chapel present “Our First Lady of Jazz.” This dynamic concert celebrating the pioneering composer Mary Lou Williams features a wide range of Black sacred music, from vocal jazz and gospel to spirituals, classical, and the blues. 

The concert is free and open to the public. Free parking is available in Bryan Center Parking Garage at 125 Science Drive with ADA parking available in the surface lot at the same address.

Williams (1910–1981) was a jazz composer and pianist who taught at Duke as an artist-in-residence from 1977 until her death. She wrote for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and mentored artists such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell. Her works are an “encyclopedia of black music” (Newsweek) that fuse religious themes with the idioms of jazz. While at Duke, she occasionally performed in the Chapel and with the Chapel Choir. Duke’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, named in her honor, recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary.

This performance brings together special guest artists and Duke musicians:

  • The North Carolina Central University Vocal Jazz Ensemble, directed by Lenora Helm Hammonds
  • John V. Brown, Vice Provost for the Arts at Duke
  • Patrice E. Turner, Director of Worship and the Arts at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and student at Duke Divinity School
  • Orlandus Perry, drummer and music educator
  • The Duke Chapel Choir, directed by Zebulon M. Highben

The concert repertoire includes excepts from Williams’ albums Music for Peace and Black Christ of the Andes; works by Undine Smith Moore, Florence Price, and Duke Ellington; and spirited renditions of classics such as “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.” 

Learn more about the music and legacy of Williams at a pre-concert talk by Melodie Galloway, Director of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina—Asheville. The talk is at 3:15 p.m. in Duke Chapel.

The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture is a hub for community-building, learning, exploration, and identity development. Founded in 1983, the center’s mission is to provide a safe and affirming space that supports the diverse needs of Black-identified people at Duke University. Named in honor of Mary Lou Williams, the center values and prioritizes community, authenticity, inclusion, liberation, and respect. Support the Mary Lou Williams Center.

Duke Arts fosters the study and the expression of art at all levels, and across all forms of creative practice – including music, visual art, dance, cinema, theater, literary, and experimental arts. It champions an expansive and inclusive approach to the arts on campus, throughout Durham, and beyond – showcasing world-class creators and performers, cultivating artists and scholars, and supporting the creation of new works. Support Duke Arts.

Duke Chapel is an icon of the university, a vibrant center of ecumenical Christian worship, and the moderator of Religious Life at Duke. With a mission of “bridging faith and learning,” the Chapel serves the Duke community and beyond through student engagement, Christian worship, sacred music and the arts, and community engagement. Support Duke Chapel.

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