Jazz Studies Faculty Member Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

Etienne Charles earns distinguished fellowship to compose music.

A jazz trumpeter and assistant professor of jazz studies at Michigan State University is among 175 scholars, artists, and scientists receiving a 2015 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Etienne Charles, from the MSU College of Music, received the prestigious award given to professionals who demonstrate exceptional capacity for scholarship or creative abilities in the arts. He becomes one of just a handful of MSU faculty members who have received the distinguished award.

“I’m humbled by the list of people I’m joining and who have come before me,” says Charles. “It’s a very diverse group with some great minds.”

Since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has award $325 million in fellowships to 18,000 individuals. This year’s artists, writers, scholars, and scientists join a legacy of fellows that include Nobel laureates, poet laureates, and winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal, and other internationally recognized honors.

The 2015 Guggenheim fellows represent 51 disciplines, 63 different academic institutions, 23 states and the District of Colombia, and two Canadian provinces, and range in age from 29 to 83.

Charles was selected from a field of 3,100 applicants, and will apply the Guggenheim fellowship to research and create a long-form composition dedicated to traditional Caribbean rituals. Charles says the work will consist of a series of pieces connected by a common thread—similar to a suite—and is reflective of the hybrid culture of the Caribbean.

Born in Trinidad in 1983, Charles says he draws his musical influences from the island’s blended cultures. His father, too, played a key role in shaping his musical voice by acquainting him with everything from Motown to traditional Caribbean music as a DJ and member of various bands.

“Culturally, Trinidad is a big melting pot,” says Charles. “Many cultures coincide to become one, and the music accentuates what we all have in common.”

Dean James Forger of the College of Music says that Charles' compositional works shine a spotlight on the rich music and traditions of the Caribbean, and help bring about a greater understanding of the rich and diverse culture of the region.

“Etienne Charles is one of the brightest minds in jazz performance and artistic creativity today,” says Forger. “We are delighted his contributions and promise in the world of jazz performance and composition has been recognized as a recipient of the highly prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.” 

Charles joined the MSU Jazz Studies faculty in 2009, received his master’s degree from the Juilliard School, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. He has performed and recorded widely with contemporary musicians and jazz masters, and as a lead soloist. 

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