Music Honors MLK and the Civil Rights Movement

College of Music partners with Project 60/50 to provide innovative cultural programming.

Performance, workshops, scholarly talks and the playback of one of America’s most famous speeches are among the ways the MSU College of Music has taken part in the campus-wide campaign that honors two defining events in 20th century U.S. history.

Launched by MSU’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives (MSU OIII), the university’s yearlong “Project 60/50” commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, and the 50th anniversary of the passage and signing into law of the Civil Rights Act.

In Partnership with  MSU OIII, the College of Music marked its first “Project 60/50” event with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative jazz concert. “Jazz Spirituals, Prayer and Protest” featured the MSU Jazz Orchestras led by Director of Jazz Studies Rodney T. Whitaker, as well as MSU Children’s Choir and the Earl Nelson Singers. Themed “Women in Jazz,” the performance highlighted pioneering African American women in jazz and gospel including Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Abbey Lincoln.

A second event—“Listen: MLK Speaks”—consisted of a continuous loop of King's full “I Have a Dream” speech that played between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Martin Luther King Day in the Cook Recital Hall.

To provide greater reach as well as an opportunity for cross college collaboration, Sherman Garnett, dean of James Madison College, suggested that a series of speakers visit campus in conjunction with select jazz concerts to explore “a variety of musical and personal responses on the question of civil rights and race in the history of Jazz.”  As a result, several prominent speakers have been invited to campus in partnership with the James Madison College, the College of Social Science, and the LeFrak Forum and Symposium on Science, Reason, & Modern Democracy in the Department of Political Science, and the College of Music.

In early January, Marcie Hutchinson presented on “The Great Migration 1900-1941.” A professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, Hutchinson is among the creators of the innovative “Jazz from A-Z” that received backing from Wynton Marsalis and involves enhancing educational curriculums through music.

In March, Emmett Price  will address “Spirituality and Social Justice in Black Music: The Case of John Coltrane.” Price is an associate professor of music and former chair of the Department of African American Studies at Northeastern University. He is considered a leading expert on African American music and culture, and known for his cutting edge research on bridging the generational divide.

In April, Portia Maultsby will address “‘Freedom Now’ and  ‘Black Power’: Their Ideological Manifestations in Soul and Funk Music.” A professor emerita of folklore and ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Maultsby is considered a prominent expert on popular and African American music, musical aesthetics and transnationalism.

Both lectures will be in conjunction with musical presentations by MSU Jazz Studies and will take place in Room 103 of the Music Practice Building. Price will speak Friday, March 14, at 3:30 p.m., and Maultsby on Friday, April 11, at 3:30 p.m.  These guests will also engage with students through classes and seminars in both the College of Music and in James Madison College.

“We are pleased to contribute to MSU’s year-long 60/50 project through performances and programming that spark discussion,” says James Forger, dean of the MSU College of Music. “Music has and will continue to play a part in shaping our nation’s history and culture, and provides us with a way to commemorate significant events.”

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