Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, pianist and educator George Walker has died at the age of 96. Walker’s death was announced to NPR by one of his family members, Karen Schaefer, who said he died Thursday at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J. after a fall.
Walker’s music was firmly rooted in the modern classical tradition, but also drew from African-American spirituals and jazz. His nearly 100 compositions range broadly, from intricately orchestrated symphonic works and concertos to intimate songs and solo piano pieces.
“His music is always characterized by a great sense of dignity, which is how he always comported himself,” says composer Jeffrey Mumford, who, as a music professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, uses examples of Walker’s music in his classes. “His style evolved over the years; his earlier works, some written while still a student, embodied an impressive clarity and elegance.”
Walker was a trailblazing man of “firsts,” and not just because of the Pulitzer. In the year 1945 alone, he was the first African-American pianist to play a recital at New York’s Town Hall, the first black instrumentalist to play solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
The following year, Walker wrote his first string quartet. In 1990, he revised the second movement into a new piece, Lyric for Strings, which has become his most often-performed work.
In 1996, Walker broke new ground again when he became the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. Lilacs for voice and orchestra, set to a text by Walt Whitman, is a moving meditation on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
For more than 150 years, Howard University has been associated with the highest caliber of scholarship on the African diaspora. Howard’s legacy as a hub for the intellectual exploration of Blackness is widely appreciated in the Africana subset of academia. Lesser known is the woman who conceived and facilitated the development of Howard’s wealth of archival resources into one of the primary centers for the study of people of African descent. The story of Dorothy Porter Wesley, a pioneer in the field of library and information science, is also the story of the triumphant beginnings of a new discipline. As a result of Porter’s vision and dedication, Black special collections began to occupy more prominent roles in their institutions, allowing engagement with historically marginalized narratives through the palpable past.
The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, an administrative unit containing the libraries, university archives, museum, and additional special collections at Howard University is the realization of a vision from centuries past. During Reconstruction, former Union general Otis Howard and his supporters in Washington D.C., founded the university that bears his name. From its inception, the school was to have a library. The first board members, many of whom were prominent figures in the local Black community or wealthy northern abolitionists, donated swaths of manuscript material, mostly concerning Africa and abolitionism.
These contributions reflected a wave of interest in studying Black history that coincided with the introduction of Black historical societies across the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In significant numbers, the Emancipated were reclaiming a history that white supremacy attempted to erase. After hundreds of years of white people in the United States denying Black people their agencies, histories, languages, and cultures, the very act of consolidating materials for study was radical, and the undercurrent of this practice is the genesis of a dedicated examination of Blackness.
Growing in an ebb and flow of major donations and smaller, continuous gifts, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center evolved from a one-room study in 1917 to a large-scale Foundation by the turn of the century. The University accepted donations of personal libraries and papers, including first editions and other rare texts and writings from Howard and his contemporaries. The generosity of donors was not unique to the University. Wherever freedmen settled, one of the first institutions in their communities was a school, and teachers were highly regarded. Additionally, wealthy, white, northern philanthropists felt strongly that contributing to the education of the formerly enslaved would partially atone for the “earthly torment” of the Atlantic Slave Trade. In these respects, the origins of Howard’s collections are comparable to those of peer institutions, although the school’s Du Boisian ethos differentiated it from its primarily vocational contemporaries.
By the 1930s, Howard University was one of the premier academic establishments for Black elites and their progeny. Sixty-five years removed from enslavement, the first generation of Howard graduates made way for a new crop. Among this number was Dorothy Porter.
The Institute of Jazz Studies on the Newark campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey has announced that is has acquired the archives of legendary jazz musician and big band leader Count Basie. The Count Basie Collection includes his pianos, Hammond organ, photos, correspondence, concert programs, business records, housewares and press clippings. Nearly 1,000 artifacts are included in the collection.
Wayne Winborne, executive director of the Institute of Jazz Studies notes that “although the materials cover the entire years of Basie’s lifetime, the collection represents the latter years of Basie’s life and career particularly well, including a large number of accolades, Grammy awards, honorary degrees, and proclamations.”
Count Basie enjoyed a career that spanned more than 60 years and helped to elevate jazz as a serious art form. Count Basie established swing as one of jazz’s predominant styles and solidified the link between jazz and the blues. In 1958, he was the first African American to win a Grammy Award. He went on to earn eight additional Grammys. He died in 1984.
The collection will be available to researchers and the general public in the near future.
To be named high-school valedictorian is an honor for any family. For the Georges, that distinction came in the form of fraternal twins, Malik and Miles, who are now heading to their dream school together: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The 18-year-old brothers from New Jersey delivered a rousing and light-hearted speech at their Woodbridge High School graduation ceremony on Thursday, capping off years of academic excellence and hard work. The twins took turns giving their combined oratory address to their nearly 400 classmates, each one putting a spotlight on subjects dear to them like climate change and having support groups.
“It was an amazing experience,” Malik said. “To have all four years to culminate that moment is an enriching experience.”
The graduates, who earned near perfect SAT scores and didn’t have a grade lower than an A-minus in high school, now head to M.I.T., the school they’ve been laser-focused on since freshman year at Woodbridge High. So much so, the George brothers applied early –– and found out they got in weeks before their birthday in December.
“It was our dream school,” Miles said. ” We were looking at top ten schools and we fell in love with everything it had to offer.”
In addition to MIT, the brothers were also accepted into Harvard and Johns Hopkins University. They attribute much of their achievements to their parents, who recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.
“From a very young age, our parents have been active in our education,” Malik said. “If we ever did get a B, they never forced us to do anything, they just wanted us to do our best.”
Away from their parents, now the brothers have each other to look out for once they head to college. Malik is 11 minutes older, but Miles is two inches taller.
“We’re each other’s big brother in a way,” Malik said.
A third grader from East Orange, New Jersey received a huge honor from the city’s mayor after saving her friend’s life. 9-year-old Kori Scott was named “Mayor for the Day” after stepping in and performing the Heimlich maneuver while her friend was choking, News 12 New Jersey reported.
The incident happened at Bowser Elementary School while Scott and her friend Astah were eating lunch in the cafeteria, the news outlet writes. Astah started choking on her food and ran to the water fountain. Scott ran after her friend and used the Heimlich maneuver; a first-aid procedure that she took training courses for with her mother.
“I did it 1-2-3 and food came out,” Scott told the news outlet. Her loved ones praised her for her quick response in the scary situation. “It could have ended very [differently’]” said her mother Kiana Scott, who serves as a security guard in the East Orange School district. “I’m glad Kori was a quick thinker and I’m glad she remembered what her father did when he did it on her.”
Scott’s heroic efforts caught the attention of local community leaders. East Orange Mayor Ted Green made Scott the “Mayor for the Day” on Friday. “I am honored to stand here and recognize Kori as one of East Orange’s own hometown heroes,” said Mayor Green in a statement. “Kori’s brave actions have already made an incredible impact on our city. Her smart instincts and quick actions are characteristics of a true hero, and it fills me with pride to have her here today as a representative of our city and community.”
The board of trustees of Princeton University in New Jersey has voted to honor two former slaves who played a role in the university’s early history. A new green roof garden at the Firestone Library will honor Betsey Stockton and an arch in the East Pyne building on campus will honor James Collins Johnson.
Betsey Stockton was born into slavery in Princeton at the end of the eighteenth century. She worked in the home of Ashbel Green president of Princeton University. After gaining her freedom, she established a missionary school for native Hawaiian children. She later started a school for Black children in Philadelphia and taught for 30 years in the only public school in Princeton for African American children. Stockton died in 1865.
Jimmy Johnson was a fugitive slave who arrived in Princeton in 1839. He worked as a janitor until 1843. That year, a student recognized him and had him apprehended as a runaway slave. Local residents raised money to buy Johnson’s freedom and he started a small business selling snacks to Princeton students. Johnson died in 1902. (To learn more of Johnson’s story, click here.)
Princeton University showed respect and honor to author Toni Morrison by dedicating Morrison Hall on Friday, Nov. 17. Morrison – who in 1993 became the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature – is the Emeritus Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities at the university. The building dedication took place after Morrison’s keynote address at the Princeton and Slavery Project Symposium.
“This is a very, very special, beautiful occasion for me,” Morrison said.
During the opening fort he dedication ceremony, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber emphasized the importance of Morrison Hall, referring to it as a “181-year-old building that is the home and the heart of the undergraduate college at Princeton University.” Previously, Morrison Hall was called West College, and inside, students can find the Office of the Dean of the College. On Nov. 14, a portrait of Morrison created by Paul Wyse was hung in the building.
“How fitting that the first building named through this process will now honor a teacher, an artist and a scholar who not only has graced our campus with the highest imaginable levels of achievement and distinction, but who has herself spoken eloquently about the significance of names on the Princeton campus,” Eisgruber said, referring to an address Morrison delivered in 1996 at Princeton’s 250th convocation, titled “The Place of the Idea; the Idea of the Place.”
Other speakers at the ceremony included Morrison’s close friend Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and her former student MacKenzie Bezos who graduated from Princeton in 1992 and is now an author. In 2016, the university trustees approved naming and dedicating one of the institution’s most prominent buildings after Morrison. Simmons helped recruit Morrison to Princeton when Simmons was acting director of the Center for African American Studies. In her remarks, Simmons said, “It doesn’t take much for Toni to get a swelled head; this is going to take it over the top.”
Morrison joined the Princeton University faculty as a literature and creative writing professor in 1989. She transferred to emeritus status in 2006. According to the Princeton, the Sula writer played a major role in expanding the university’s commitments to the creative and performing arts and to African American Studies. In 1994, Morrison founded the Princeton Atelier, which brings together undergraduate students in interdisciplinary collaborations with acclaimed artists. Morrison’s papers, which were already a part of the university library’s permanent collection since 2014, became available to students, faculty and worldwide scholars in 2016 for research purposes.
Reports indicate that Democrat Phil Murphy is projected to win the New Jersey governor’s race making his running mate, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor. She is now the second highest-ranking official in the State of New Jersey.
She was elected to her new title after the election of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy takes a sweeping victory from the Republican candidate, lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno.
“I certainly know how the legislature works,” Oliver said during her campaign. “I certainly have relationships with 119 members of the state Legislature. And to run an effective government and to get things done, you need to cooperation in the state Senate, the general assembly and the executive branch.”
Oliver, 65, is a native of Newark and is the first African-American woman Assembly Speaker in New Jersey. She has more than a dozen years of legislative experience, serving in the lower house of the New Jersey Legislature since 2004. She also served on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders from 1996 to 1999.
Taraji P. Henson has been tapped to host BET’s 2017 Black Girls Rock Awards honoring “Insecure” creator, writer and star Issa Rae, “Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi and others. The ceremony will take place on Aug. 5 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Rae is set to receive the Star Power Award while actress/activist Shahidi will take home the Young Gifted and Black honor.
Other honorees include singer Roberta Flack (Living Legend Award); financier Suzanne Shank (Shot Caller Award); and community organizers Derrica Wilson and Natalie Wilson of The Black & Missing Foundation (Community Change Agent Award).
The 2017 Black Girls Rock Awards will air on BET on Aug. 20.
Last year, the Smith family in Trenton, New Jersey, won the $429 million Powerball lottery, and they planned to use all that money to help fight poverty. Pearlie Mae Smith and her seven children meant what they said at a press conference when they promised to give that money back to their community.
“It was like affirmation from God because we each have dreams that we want to fulfill in this life, and do for our community and do for each other and for our families and we have been funded to do that,” Smith’s daughter Valerie Arthur said last year when the family won about $25 million apiece after taxes when they decided to take their winnings in a lump sum.
They used the money to pay off bills and student loans before they put it back into their community with the Smith Family Foundation. “We want to fund programs that directly affect systems of poverty so we can help change the systems or change the dynamics that are causing people to be in poverty,” Harold Smith told NJ.com. “Rather than just helping them find food or give away food, we can make it so they now have the ability to obtain employment, get their proper education in order to be able to go out and get their own food.”
The foundation will work with the city in order to provide both long- and short-term grants for Trenton.
Source: Family wins $429 million lottery, aims to use money to fight poverty | theGrio