July 23, 2007


One day a shy girl from Philadelphia, PA, was sweeping her front stoop and sweetly singing "Summertime” when a guitarist/writer from Philadelphia International Records walked by and heard her singing. He was so impressed by what he heard that he auditioned her, hired her and the rest is history. That was the beginning of a singing career that would WOW people in Brazil, France, Africa, Japan, Turkey, and other places around the world.

Denise King was born and raised in West Philadelphia and is a graduate of West Philly High School. Denise is not only one of the best voices on the Jazz scene today, she strongly believes in giving back to the community. Through programs such as Be-Bop and Books (A literacy program for children) and A Performing Arts Program (which will cover Dance, Theater, Music, Painting and Quilting) and the Cedar Park Jazz Series which takes place on Friday evenings on 50th & Baltimore Aves in West Philly. The grand aim of all of these programs is to bridge the gap between our younger generation, our more established citizens and the variety of cultures which make up our neighborhood. Denise says "West Philly is rich in history and culture and a wide variety of people make up this wonderful community, Jazz is a great medium for communication!"

With no formal vocal instruction, it’s apparent that she was born to sing. She was introduced to Jazz at age twelve by an uncle who had an extensive collection of Jazz LP's. Her "studies" involved hours of listening to the Jazz greats, both vocalists and instrumentalists. Denise borrowed phrasing styles from Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat "King" Cole and Frank Sinatra. She gained an appreciation for lyrics from Lil Jimmy Scott, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McCrae and Nina Simone. The early gigs were difficult in that she was painfully stage shy. But with the help of Sam Reed, sax man and leader of the legendary Uptown Theater Orchestra she overcame her stage fright. Her early experiences involved sharing the stage with many legends, Butch Ballard, Arthur Harper, Sam Dougherty, Cecil Payne, Jymie Merritt, Bootsie Barnes, Lex Humphries and many, many more. They taught her the importance of having something to say every time she stepped up to the microphone. Their instruction paid off. While performing at Zanzibar Blue in Philly, Denise met Dexter Wansel, writer, producer, which opened the door to many recording experiences at Philly International Records. Denise King is a very passionate singer who has a way of pulling her audiences into her performances.

Listening to her warm tone, impeccable phrasing, and the absolute control she has of her voice is mesmerizing. Whether she's singing a Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan standard, or a Gladys Knight or Aretha Franklin cover, she puts her heart and soul into every note. Denise has mastered the art of making a song her own no matter what the genre. Over the years, she has shared the stage with such greats as Roy Hargrove, The Brecker Brothers, Phil Wright, Cecil McBee, Christian McBride, Orrin Evans, Lonnie Plaxico, Uri Caine, Sid Simmons, Dr. Guy Ramsey, J.D. Walter, Barbara Morrison, Derrick Hodge, Chris Beck, Billy Paul, Jean Carne, Celine Dion, Bunny Sigler and the list goes on and on. When performing with her band whether trio, quartet or quintet they are the driving force behind her and support her every note. They instinctively know what she's going to do next and meet her there with perfect timing. With a voice described as velvet smooth she captivates you and holds you with every note. When she's in concert, it's not unusual to see her break out into a dance on stage or with someone from the audience. Her shows are always energetic, fun and spontaneous. Her love of people, performance style, and energy are sure to always make Denise King a favorite at any venue.

Denise sings pop and jazz standards with touches of the blues, soul and even gospel in a voice steeped in a sophisticated, swinging, sometimes soulful, satin style much like one of her idols, Sarah Vaughan.
Her group includes: Aaron Graves, piano; Lee Smith, bass; Lucky Thompson, drums; Sam Reed, tenor-alto sax and Napoleon Black, percussion; a winning hand in any jazz club.

A singer, who cares about the song, Ms King said: "I am a sucker for the lyrics and not interested in vocal gymnastics. I want to hear the story the writer has to tell." And for this, those who share King"s love of Gershwin and Porter, can only be thankful. Some of her favorites: The Nearness of You, Poor Butterfly, Fever, Stolen Moments and Crazy. Her own favorite singers include: Sarah, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, King Cole, Nancy Wilson, Sinatra and, yes, even Patsy Cline.
Ms King has sung at almost all the top clubs in Philadelphia and several in New York, Paris and Japan during the past 15 years. She started in her thirties and has expanded beyond singing into Denise King Enterprises producing concerts, records and dates for herself and others. Among her childhood influences were an uncle's jazz and blues record collection and Sid Mark's weekly radio marathon of Sinatra stylings. She says now, simply, "I loved gospel, blues, jazz, pop, Sinatra and R&B stars such as Ruth Brown and Ko Ko Taylor." She sums it all up saying, "I think I am a universal spirit."

July 22, 2007


Barbara Montgomery has been in the entertainment field for over thirty years as a music industry executive, publisher, producer, songwriter, arranger, recording artist, as well as working in production for film and television. She began performing as a jazz vocalist in 1970 but took a detour in her music career by joining the NBC/Westinghouse television station that produced the “Mike Douglas Show”, working for that program and others. The days on the Douglas Show were priceless, for she worked side by side with the greats in jazz--Ella Fitzgerlad, Tony Bennett, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, to name just a few. During this time she also freelanced, working on the seminal PBS series, “The Constitution: That Delicate Balance”, as well as touring as a lighting designer for international popular music groups. She was also the managing director of a major recording studio servicing the music, television and film businesses.

She has been Music Director for Richard Simmons since 1986. This has given her the opportunity to produce the music for over 20 exercise videos ranging from oldies to disco to Broadway to Latin music, working in studios from New York to Los Angeles with hundreds of world class studio musicians.

After a twenty-year break, she returned to her passion, performing and recording as a jazz musician. Her relationship with Chick Corea and Neville Potter led to her third CD “Dakini Land” and was a springboard for the original songs on her fourth CD “Little Sunflower”. This endeavour blessed her with the gift of friendship, performance, and collaboration with the great jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. She has produced six CDs of her own, arranging and writing original material for five of them in collaboration with Steve Giordano (“Ask Me Now”), Barry Sames (“Dakini Land” and “Little Sunflower”) and Aaron Graves (“Trinity”). Her 2005 release, “Trinity” was co-produced with pianist/composer/ arranger Aaron Graves, whose short list includes work with Stanley Turrentine, Cassandra Wilson, Dakota Staton, the legendary Jimmy Scott, and Oscar Brown, Jr. Both “Little Sunflower” and “Trinity” were honored with the Blue Chip Award for Best Jazz Vocals by Dr. Herb Wong of the International Association of Jazz Educators.

Ms. Montgomery also leads LADIES NIGHT OUT, her band of top female jazz musicians including Monette Sudler on guitar, Lynn Riley on saxophones/flute/clarinet, Lee-sa Robinson on drums, all international recording artists and performers in their own right.

She has been asked to write and contribute for jazz publications, including the premier issue of the AllAboutJazz newspaper, Jazziz Magazine, and Downbeat, and was featured in the July 2004 issue of Jazziz. She is writing a book on life as a private citizen in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

While raising her two children, she performed primarily in the PA/DE/NJ/NY area (Iridium, Borgia Cafe, Zanzibar Blue, Ortlieb's, Chris' Cafe, jazz festivals, Philadelphia Museum of Art Jazz Series among others); has had three sold out tours in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, performing in Prague, Usti nad Labem, Olomousc, Bratislava, Trencin, Piestany, Banska Biasnica, Martin, Zvolen, Banska Biastryka; and has performed often in France.

She has been volunteering with The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, an international institute that works with the families of brain injured children, since 1980, in their programs for hurt kids and well children. She home schooled her two children (now 27 and 19) from birth via the neurological program guidelines of the Institutes, teaching languages, art, music, violin, sciences, history, literature, and gymnastics among other areas in the academic and physical programs; became certified at the teaching level; has volunteered for many years in their clinical work, most recently proving translation services for the French speaking families; participated in over 20 twenty world meetings on brain research. She has received the Brazilian Gold Medal of Honor for her efforts in this field.

She is deeply involved in gun violence prevention, stemming from the years she lived in South Vietnam in the early 1960's. A more recent tragedy was the murder-suicide in January 2002 in Ardmore, Pa. of the family of five that included her daughter's dear friend, 14-year-old Alexandra Wake. Since that time she has hosted town meetings to address the dilemma of gun accessibility, has spoken at press conferences state wide, and has lobbied often in the Pennsylvania state capitol and in Congress in Washington, D.C. This led her to become the President of The Pennsylvania Million Mom Chapters of the Brady Campaign. She continuously presents s gun violence prevention workshops to youth in middle schools, high schools, community organizations, and colleges; produced a state-wide assault weapons ban conference in the spring of 2004; and has testified in front of and advised the City Council of Philadelphia and the Pa. State Senate on firearms legislation.

She also works with Mothers in Charge and Mothers Opposed to Murder, both groups of Philadelphia mothers who have lost children to homicide, as well as Mantua Against Drugs, Men United for a Better Philadelphia, Pennsylvanians Against Trafficking Handguns, and other grass roots organizations in Pennsylvania. From October 2004 through 2005 she directed weekly workshops with teens using music as the vehicle to help them work through the violence in their lives, coaching them to write poetry, song lyrics, and music, as well as coaching actual performances of their songs. She performed at the national Million Mom March on Mother’s Day of 2004 in Washington, D.C. on the west lawn of the Capitol honoring Alexandra and the many victims of gun violence, and each year produces and performs the Mother’s Day Remembrance Service for the Pennsylvania Million Mom March.

July 21, 2007


Blues, jazz, funk, and Afro-Caribbean percussion surround the soulful voice of Harlem-born poet Sekou Sundiata on his recordings, The Blue Oneness of Dreams and Longstoryshort. His words speak of black culture and tradition, often with a political edge. "People be droppin’ revolution like it was a pick-up line," he says in Longstoryshort. "You wouldn’t use that word if you knew what it meant."

S ekou Sundiata, (born Robert Feaster), was born on August 22, 1948, in Harlem, New York. Sekou taught English literature at the New School for Social Research, Sundiata became quite a performer in his own right as well, usually leading a band on frequent club dates reminiscent of June Jordan, Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), and Quincy Troupe. Sundiata began writing for the musical theater, and premiered The Mystery of Love in 1994, with songwriting help from Doug Booth. The duo also teamed up on Sundiata's debut album, The Blue Oneness of Dreams, with Booth contributing both songs and his soulful vocals to the project. The album was released on Polygram in 1997; A Long Story Short followed in early 2000.

Sundiata recorded and performed his poetry with such renowned musicians as Craig Harris, David Murray, Nona Hendryx, and Vernon Reid. However, he did not consider himself a performance poet. "This thing about spoken word artists and performance poets, " he said in a 2003 interview, "I think of it mainly as marketing categories. I’m satisfied with just calling myself a poet."

His designation as a poet also satisfied New York City's New School University, where Sundiata was the first Writer-in-Residence. He taught literature and poetry classes, despite never having published a book of poems. Among his students was folk-rocker Ani DiFranco, whose Righteous Babe label released Longstoryshort. DiFranco has said that Sundiata "taught me everything I know about poetry. " The two performed together in twenty-three cities during her "Rhythm and News Tour" in 2001.
Despite touring and performing with musicians, Sundiata didn't consider himself a "crossover" artist. For him, being a poet necessarily implied a deep engagement with several genres. "It's damn near impossible to understand what contemporary black poets are doing without understanding what's going on with black music and its relationship to black speech and black literature, " he said.

In 2003, Sundiata toured the United States again, performing his one-man theatrical piece Blessing the Boats, a chronicle of his five-year battle with kidney failure, and his eventual recovery thanks to a transplant donated by his friend and manager Katea Stitt, daughter of jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt. The piece blends monologues, readings, stand-up comedy, spoken word, and storytelling with recorded music and video projections.

The poet's most recent theatrical piece, The America Project, contemplating America's place in the world, featured poems and a cycle of songs, accompanied by images and a ten-member ensemble of musicians and vocalists.
Television journalist Bill Moyers, who featured Sundiata in the PBS series on poetry, The Language of Life, has said of the poet: "His music comes from so many places it is impossible to name them all. But I will wager that if we could trace their common origin, we'd arrive at the headwaters of the soul. Listen carefully and he’ll take you there."

Sundiata died of heart failure early in the morning on July 18th, 2007.

July 08, 2007


Gerald L. Cannon, Musician, composer, and artist was born in Racine, Wisconsin, and is a true-life 21st century Renaissance man. For that reason one should not confuse his craft with anything but genuine, from the heart artistry.

Gerald's initial inspiration was his father Benjamin, a guitarist, who bought him his first electric bass at 10 years old. At 16 he began playing bass in his father's own group, The Gospel Expressions. Gerald attended the University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse, where he met jazz great Milt Hinton. This meeting changed not only Gerald's major in college, but also the rest of his life.

At 19 Gerald transferred to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee, where he studied jazz/classical bass and piano. He also studied art at Marquette University, which nurtured a natural talent and love of painting. Outside of school, Gerald began working as musical director for vocalist Penny Goodwin, who ultimately became his single greatest mentor. This experience, combined with the subsequent creation of his own quintet Gerald Cannon's Jazz Elements, laid the foundation for a solid reputation as a leader and composer in his own right.

In Spring of 1988 Gerald moved to New York City and began working with some of the most significant jazz artists of our time, including Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Cedar Walton, Billy Higgins, Jimmy Smith, Frank Foster, Little Jimmy Scott, Von Freeman, Stanley Turrentine and Bunky Green. An introduction to Roy Hargrove in 1995 lead to an historic collaboration that achieved national and international success, culminating in the contribution of Gerald's original composition Peri to Hargrove's recording Moment to Moment (Verve).

In 2001, Gerald left Hargrove to join the legendary drummer Elvin Jones. "Playing with Elvin is like going back to school. He continually challenges my creativity." When not working with Elvin, Gerald fills the bass chair of the Cannonball Adderly Reunion Band with Louis Hayes. "His (Louis') sense of swing is unbelievable."

Gerald carries the knowledge passed on to him by legendary bassists such as Ray Brown and Sam Jones, and continues the legacy by conducting master classes throughout the U.S. and Europe. The consummate sideman, musical director, composer, educator, painter and producer, Gerald has now stepped out front as leader with the debut of his self-titled recording Gerald Cannon (Woodneck Records) in 2004.

Like the masters before him, Gerald Cannon has established a fearless, solid groove that distinguishes him as one of the principal figures in jazz.

July 07, 2007


Tshombe Sekou Harris, who goes by the name Truth Theory was born April 18, 1973 in New Orleans, La. He wrote his first piece of literature in July of 2006 as a release of emotions, and continued on to write poetry. With this new found affinity for poetry combined with his love for music, he began composing tracks to flow with his written words. It was at this time he created the moniker of Truth Theory. After getting much feedback on his blogs in places like blogger, MySpace, and multiply.com, he was encouraged to continue in his craft for words and music.

After much writing, he eventually recorded his written poetry pieces for the first time in the form of a spoken word album titled "IAMNOTAPO3T" which can be purchased at CDbaby.com, an album he self produced and published as an indie artist for raising funds for his self established scholarship “The Truth Theory African American Heritage Scholarship” that is given out bi-annually to young under privileged African-Americans looking to go on to college, to find more on the scholarship you can visit www.truththeory.com.

He continues to write poetry occasionally as a form of release while managing an online poetry group "Po3tic Voices" a group of 55 poets moving to harness their skills in the spoken word realm, hear more about poetic voices at www.po3ticVoices.multiply.com. He also hosts an online spoken word talk show "Spoken Truth" over on www.blogtalkradio.com and soon here on NAL Radio, this talk show is designed for “Indie” artist to share some of their works and for providing a forum for discussing some of the issues in our community. He does all of this as he furthers his career in the US Navy and completes his Degree in Computer Engineering. He is also currently working on his second and third CD, which he is hoping to complete by the summer of 2008.

"In my opinion," Tshombe says, "poetry and jazz are one in the same in that they both are rhythmic and free flowing. Poetry is image forming and thought provoking, it allows the reader/listener to use their mind as a canvas to generate their own experiences as well as new emotions. Well, non-vocalized jazz does this very thing—it takes you to heights, new levels of highs and lows. So jazz and poetry, together are a sure fire cocktail for a mind altering experience."

July 06, 2007


John Coltrane was born September 23, 1926 in Hamlet North Carolina and grew up in High Point, North Carolina, where he learned to play E-flat alto horn, clarinet, and (at about the age of 15) alto saxophone. After moving to Philadelphia he enrolled at the Ornstein School of Music and the Granoff Studios; service in a navy band in Hawaii (1945-46) interrupted these studies. He played alto saxophone in the bands led by Joe Webb and King Kolax, then changed to the tenor to work with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson (1947-48). He performed on either instrument as circumstances demanded while in groups led by Jimmy Heath, Howard McGhee, Dizzy Gillespie (with whom he made his first recording in 1949), Earl Bostic, and lesser-known rhythm-and-blues musicians, but by the time of his membership in Johnny Hodges's septet (1953-54) he was firmly committed to the tenor instrument. He performed infrequently for about a year, then leaped to fame in Miles Davis' quintet with Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones (1955-57). Coltrane was, after Charlie Parker, the most revolutionary and widely imitated saxophonist in jazz.

Throughout the 1950s addiction to drugs and then alcoholism disrupted his career. Shortly after leaving Davis, however, he overcame these problems; his album A Love Supreme celebrated this victory and the profound religious experience associated with it. Coltrane next played in Thelonious Monk's quartet (July-December 1957), but owing to contractual conflicts took part in only one early recording session of this legendary group. He rejoined Davis and worked in various quintets and sextets with Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Chambers, Jones, and others (1958-60). While with Davis he discovered the soprano saxophone, purchasing his own instrument in February 1960.

Having led numerous studio sessions, established a reputation as a composer, and emerged as the leading tenor saxophonist in jazz, Coltrane was now prepared to form his own group; it made its debut at New York's Jazz Gallery in early May 1960. After briefly trying Steve Kuhn, Pete La Roca, and Billy Higgins, Coltrane hired two musicians who became longstanding members of his quartet, McCoy Tyner (1960-65) and Elvin Jones (1960-66); the third, Jimmy Garrison, joined in 1961. With these sidemen the quartet soon acquired an international following. At times Art Davis added a second double bass to the group; Eric Dolphy also served as an intermittent fifth member on bass clarinet, alto saxophone, and flute from 1961 to 1963, and Roy Haynes was the most regular replacement for Elvin Jones during the latter's incarceration for drug addiction in 1963.

Coltrane turned to increasingly radical musical styles in the mid-1960s. These controversial experiments attracted large audiences, and by 1965 he was surprisingly affluent. From autumn 1965 his search for new sounds resulted in frequent changes of personnel in his group. New members included Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane (his wife), Rashied Ali (a second drummer until Jones' departure), several drummers as seconds to Ali, and a number of African-influenced percussionists. In his final years and after his death, Coltrane acquired an almost saintly reputation among listeners and fellow musicians for his energetic and selfless support of young avant-garde performers, his passionate religious convictions, his peaceful demeanor, and his obsessive striving for a musical ideal. He crossed over at the age of 40 July 17, 1967 at Huntington Hospital in Long Island NY of a liver ailment. A videotape tracing his development, The Coltrane Legacy, produced by David Chertok and Burrill Crohn, was issued in 1987.

July 05, 2007


Amiri Baraka, born in 1934, in Newark, New Jersey, USA, is the author of over 40 books of essays, poems, drama, and music history and criticism, a poet icon and revolutionary political activist who has recited poetry and lectured on cultural and political issues extensively in the USA, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.

With influences on his work ranging from musical orishas such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Sun Ra to the Cuban Revolution, Malcolm X and world revolutionary movements, Baraka is renown as the founder of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s that became, though short-lived, the virtual blueprint for a new American theater aesthetics. The movement and his published and performance work, such as the signature study on African-American music, Blues People (1963) and the play Dutchman (1963) practically seeded “the cultural corollary to black nationalism” of that revolutionary American milieu.

Other titles range from Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1979), to The Music (1987), a fascinating collection of poems and monographs on Jazz and Blues authored by Baraka and his wife and poet Amina, and his boldly sortied essays, The Essence of Reparations (2003).

The Essence of Reparations is Baraka’s first published collection of essays in book form radically exploring what is sure to become a twenty-first century watershed movement of Black peoples to the interrelated issues of racism, national oppression, colonialism, neo-colonialism, self-determination and national and human liberation, which he has long been addressing creatively and critically. It has been said that Amiri Baraka is committed to social justice like no other American writer. He has taught at Yale, Columbia, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems is Baraka’s first collection of poems published in the Caribbean and includes the title poem that has headlined him in the media in ways rare to poets and authors. The recital of the poem “that mattered” engaged the poet warrior in a battle royal with the very governor of New Jersey and with a legion of detractors demanding his resignation as the state’s Poet Laureate because of Somebody Blew Up America’s provocatively poetic inquiry (in a few lines of the poem) about who knew beforehand about the New York City World Trade Center bombings in 2001.

The poem’s own detonation caused the author’s photo and words to be splashed across the pages of New York’s Amsterdam News and the New York Times and to be featured on CNN--to name a few US city, state and national and international media.

Baraka lives in Newark with his wife and author Amina Baraka; they have five children and head up the word-music ensemble, Blue Ark: The Word Ship and co-direct Kimako’s Blues People, the “artspace” housed in their theater basement for some fifteen years.

His awards and honors include an Obie, the American Academy of Arts & Letters award, the James Weldon Johnson Medal for contributions to the arts, Rockefeller Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts grants, Professor Emeritus at the State university of New York at Stony Brook, and the Poet Laureate of New Jersey.

July 04, 2007


Mary Lou Williams, born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs on May 8, 1910 in Atlanta, GA (although she soon took the name of her stepfather and was known as Mary Lou Burley), she taught herself the piano by ear and was playing in public at the age of six. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Williams' life was always filled with music. When she was 13, she started working in vaudeville, and three years later married saxophonist John Williams. They moved to Memphis, and she made her debut on records with Synco Jazzers. John soon joined Andy Kirk's orchestra, which was based in Kansas City, in 1929. Williams wrote arrangements for the band, filled in for an absent pianist on Kirk's first recording session, and eventually became a member of the orchestra herself. Her arrangements were largely responsible for the band's distinctive sound and eventual success. Williams was soon recognized as Kirk's top soloist, a stride pianist who impressed everyone (even Jelly Roll Morton). In addition, she wrote such songs such as "Roll 'Em" (a killer hit for Benny Goodman) and "What's Your Story Morning Glory" and contributed arrangements to other big bands, including those of Goodman, Earl Hines, and Tommy Dorsey.

To say that Mary Lou Williams had a long and productive career is an understatement. Although for decades she was often called jazz's greatest female musician (and one has to admire what must have been a nonstop battle against sexism), she would have been considered a major artist no matter what her sex.
Just the fact that Williams and Duke Ellington were virtually the only stride pianists to modernize their style through the years would have been enough to guarantee her a place in jazz history books. Williams managed to always sound modern during a half-century career without forgetting her roots or how to play in the older styles.

Mary Lou Williams stayed with Kirk until 1942, by which time she had divorced John Williams and married trumpeter Harold "Shorty" Baker. She co-led a combo with Baker before he joined Duke Ellington. Williams did some writing for Duke (most notably her rearrangement of "Blue Skies" into a horn battle called "Trumpets No End") and played briefly with Benny Goodman's bebop group in 1948. She had gradually modernized her style and by the early to mid-'40s was actively encouraging the young modernists who would lead the bebop revolution, including Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron, and Dizzy Gillespie. Williams' "Zodiac Suite" showed off some of her modern ideas, and her "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee" was a bebop fable recorded by Gillespie.

Williams lived in Europe from 1952-1954 and then became very involved in the Catholic religion. She retired from music for a few years before appearing as a guest with Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Williams returned to jazz and by the early '70s sounded more like a young modal player (clearly she was familiar with McCoy Tyner) than a survivor of the 1920s. Although she did not care for the avant-garde, she occasionally played quite freely, although a 1977 duo concert with Cecil Taylor was a complete fiasco. Williams wrote three masses and a cantana, was a star at Benny Goodman's 40th-anniversary Carnegie Hall concert in 1978, taught at Duke University, and often planned her later concerts as a history of jazz recital. By the time she crossed over on May 28, 1981 in Durham, NC at the age of 71, she had a list of accomplishments that could have filled three lifetimes.

Mary Lou Williams recorded through the years as a leader for many labels including Brunswick (a pair of piano solos in 1930), Decca (1938), Columbia, Savoy, extensively for Asch and Folkways during 1944-1947, Victor, King (1949), Atlantic, Circle, Vogue, Prestige, Blue Star, Jazztone, her own Mary label (1970-1974), Chiaroscuro, SteepleChase, and finally Pablo (1977-1978).

July 03, 2007


Margaret Abigail Walker was born on July 7 1915 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents, the Reverend Sigismund C. Walker, a Methodist minister and an educator, and Marion Dozier Walker, a music teacher, encouraged her to read poetry and philosophy from an early age.
Walker completed her high school education at Gilbert Academy in New Orleans, Louisiana, where her family had moved in 1925. She went on to attend New Orleans University (now Dillard University) for two years. Then, after acclaimed poet Langston Hughes recognized her talent and urged her to seek training in the North, she transferred to Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, where she received a B.A. in English in 1935, at the age of nineteen. In 1937, she published "For My People" in Poetry magazine. Her first poem to appear in print, “For My People” became one of her most famous works and was even anthologized in 1941 in The Negro Caravan.

In 1936, Walker took on full-time work with the Federal Writers' Project in Chicago under Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Project Administration, befriending and collaborating with such noted artists as Gwendolyn Brooks, Katherine Dunham, and Frank Yerby. Perhaps the most memorable of these friendships was that with noted author Richard Wright whose texts Walker would later help to research and revise. In 1988, Walker wrote a book recalling that friendship, entitled Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, a Critical Look at His Work. Involvement in the Writers' Project offered Walker a firsthand glimpse of the struggles of inner-city African Americans who were products of the Great Migration, a northward movement that had resulted in hard times and broken dreams for many southern black immigrants. During this time, Walker authored an urban novel, "Goose Island," which was never published.

After completing her tenure with the WPA in 1939, Walker returned to school, entering the Creative Writing Program at the University of Iowa, where she earned a Master of Arts degree in 1940 and, later, a Ph.D. in 1965. In 1941, Walker began teaching at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. In 1942, she left for one year to teach at West Virginia State College. In that year, she also published her first volume of poems, For My People, with the title poem quickly becoming her signature piece and helping elevate her toward success. For this volume, which served as her Master's thesis at Iowa, she won the Yale Younger Poets Award.
In 1943, Walker married Firnist James Alexander, or "Alex," as she lovingly called him, an interior designer and decorator. In 1949, following the birth of their first three children (they had a total of four children), the couple moved to Jackson, Mississippi. Walker began a prosperous teaching career at Jackson State College in the same year, retiring from its English Department thirty years later in 1979. In 1968, she founded the Institute for the Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center). She directed the center until her retirement. During her tenure at Jackson State, Walker also organized and chaired the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival.

Following retirement, she remained active as professor emerita until she crossed over on November 30, 1998 from breast cancer. Jubilee, a neo-slave narrative based on the collected memories of the author’s maternal grandmother, Elvira Ware Dozier, was published in 1966, only a year after Walker completed the first version of it for her dissertation. Many scholars view the novel as an African American response to America's fascination with Gone With the Wind (1936). Others recognize the work as an example of the historic presence that the author commands as a prophet of sorts for her people. The novel has enjoyed tremendous popularity, winning the Houghton Mifflin Literary Award (1968), having been translated into seven languages, and having never gone out of print. It has also led the author into controversy: in 1988, Walker found herself in conflict with the famed author of Roots, Alex Haley, whom she accused of infringing on her copyright of Jubilee. However, her lawsuit against him was dismissed. Walker provides further detail regarding the production of the novel in her 1972 essay, "How I Wrote Jubilee."

Walker followed Jubilee with Prophets for a New Day (1970), a poetic treatment of the historic civil rights struggle of blacks in America. It also celebrates the tradition of African American folktales and expression.
Although October Journey (1973) is more personal in tone, it still resonates with Walker's commitment to highlight the black race's struggle for freedom through art. The poems of the collection pay homage to many of Walker’s contemporaries, such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden, who also employed their art as tools of liberation.

Walker's influence on the younger Black Aesthetic poets of the 1960s and 1970s can be seen in her published talks with Nikki Giovanni. Appearing in 1974, A Poetic Equation: Conversations between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker exemplifies the common concern for justice that linked the two artists and bridged their generations.
ForFarish Street Green, Walker’s fourth poetry volume, appeared in 1986. Pieces in this collection reflect life in the Farish Street community in Jackson, Mississippi. Walker begins her portrait of the people in the neighborhood by making their lives testaments to those of their African ancestors.

This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems (1989) chronicles Walker's auspicious literary career while proving that she has unrivaled tenacity and endurance as a poet. In 1990, she revised and re-published How I Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature, coauthored with scholar Maryemma Graham. In 1997, with Graham as editor again, Walker released another collection of previously written essays, entitled On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932-1992. Several other projects remained incomplete at the time of Walker’s death, including "God Touched My Life," a biography of Sister Thea Bowman, a black nun in Mississippi; "Black-Eyed Susans," an account of the murders of two students at Jackson State College; a book on Jesse Jackson's relationship to black politics; and an autobiography.

Among Walker's numerous accolades are six honorary degrees, a Rosenwald Fellowship (1944), a Ford Fellowship (1953), a Fulbright Fellowship to Norway (1971), a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1972), the Living Legacy Award, given by the Carter administration, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the College Language Association (1992), and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Arts, presented by William Winter, then governor of Mississippi (1992).

Walker has been compared to many great writers and has claimed, as personal acquaintances and influences, the likes of James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Longevity was Walker’s friend, and, over the course of her career, she earned a place among the best (African) American poets, many of whom were her protégés.