Jazz Faculty Shares Influences of Caribbean Music With the Nation

Etienne Charles joins White House panel during Caribbean Heritage Month.

White House Caribbean Heritage Month panel members discuss topics with the audience and performed music. left to right: Machel Montano, Etienne Charles, Ryan Leslie, and Emeline Michel.Photo by Che Kothari.
Machel Montano and Etienne Charles enjoy their time at the White House while they riff and improvise music with one another. Photo by Che Kothari.
National Caribbean Heritage Month was acknowledged during a White House briefing in June of 2016 with news media and subject matter experts from across the country. Photo by Che Kothari
Panel members pause for a photo, left to right: Machel Montano, Dr. Carol Boyce-Davies, Etienne Charles, Ryan Leslie, Emeline Michel and Marlon Hill photo by Che Kothari.

Teacher, scholar, jazz trumpeter, and critically acclaimed composer Etienne Charles of the MSU College of Music recently reflected on the impact of Caribbean culture on America through a four-person panel at the White House. The panel of Caribbean luminaries was part of the White House Caribbean Heritage Month briefing in June and was moderated by Carol Boyce Davies, a professor of English and Africana Studies at Cornell University.

The Trinidad-born Charles spoke about the influence of Caribbean music on North American culture, and examined the impact of iconic musicians, performers, and activists like Hazel Scott, Harry Belafonte, Roaring Lion, and Lord Kitchener.

"It is always great to represent MSU, period," said Charles, an associate professor of jazz studies. "But to represent MSU at the White house alongside such distinguished panelists was an honor and a privilege that I will never forget."

Charles joined Trinidadian Soca star Machel Montano, R&B singer/producer Ryan Leslie and Haitian singer Emeline Michel to discuss the contributions of diverse Caribbean Americans on American traditions, commerce, and public policy. Following the panel, Charles performed with fellow panelists, and a duet with Haitian Guitarist Dener Ceide in tribute to victims of the June 12 shooting in Orlando, Fla.

In addition to his White House honors, Charles was recently one of three honorees for the inaugural Millennial Swing Award presented through Jazz at Lincoln Center. Charles also toured extensively this summer in support of his latest release San Jose Suite. The release recently peaked at No. 2 on the JazzWeek chart and is currently in the top 10.

In 2015, Charles was also among 175 scholars, artists, and scientists to receive a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He is completing the first part of a sweeping compositional work that draws on his research into the original rituals and traditional characters of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, with an eye toward a January 2017 world premiere.

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