Sonny Rollins, the legendary jazz saxophonist, has made a generous contribution to establish the Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble Fund at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.
Beginning in spring 2018, Oberlin College jazz studies majors may audition for the Oberlin Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble. Each student’s candidacy will be considered on the basis of four criteria: an audition for Oberlin’s jazz faculty, evidence of academic achievement, thoughtful response to a question about the place of jazz in the world, and service to humanity.
“Sonny Scholars” must dedicate at least two semesters to performing in the ensemble. They must also complete a winter-term project that embodies Rollins’ spirit of giving.
In explaining the rationale for this aspect of the program, Sonny Rollins said “people are hungry for a reason to live and to be happy. We’re asking these young musicians to look at the big picture, to tap into the universal power of a higher spirit, so they can give people what they need. Giving back to others teaches inner peace and inner spirituality. Everything is going to be open for them if they devote themselves in this way.”
Rollins gift to Oberlin grew out of his friendship with author and musician James McBride, a 1979 graduate of Oberlin College. The gift was made in recognition of the institution’s long legacy of access and social justice advocacy. In particular, Rollins was moved by Oberlin’s place as the first institution of higher learning to adopt a policy to admit students of color and the first to confer degrees to women, and by the contributions of alumni such as Will Marion Cook, a black violinist and composer who graduated in 1888 and who went on to become an important teacher and mentor to Duke Ellington.
Andrea Kalyn, dean of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, stated “that the legendary Sonny Rollins — an artist of truly extraordinary accomplishment, soulfulness, and character — would entrust Oberlin to steward his legacy is the highest honor, and deeply humbling.”
To kick off its celebration of Black History Month, Google turns to a 19th century artist who burned so bright that her twin gifts of blazing talent and steely determination could not be denied even in the face of her era’s discrimination. Time and again, sculptor Edmonia Lewis — nicknamed “Wildfire” — faced obstacles and setbacks, yet she persevered as if her greatness were already cast.
Lewis was orphaned at age 9, when she was adopted by maternal aunts and joined their Mississauga tribe. She endured bitter racial bias at Oberlin College, which she began attending at age 15; she was falsely accused of poisoning classmates and was beaten, and was ultimately denied the chance to graduate.
She then was refused apprenticeships in Civil War-era Boston, until she encountered the well-connected sculptor Edward Brackett, whose clients included well-known abolitionists. And she would then run a small art studio in Rome (a space formerly used by neoclassicist Antonio Canova), eschewing assistants because she was often without the means of fellow expat artists in Italy.
Yet she would shine as the first woman of American Indian and African-American descent to discover international renown in the arts.
Wednesday’s Google Doodle, by artist Sophie Diao, salutes Lewis and her great work “The Death of Cleopatra,” which rests today in Washington at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. (Her work “Forever Free” resides nearby, with the Howard University Gallery of Art.) And the ribboned “Google” wording shines bright, befitting Lewis’s nickname.
Oberlin College in Ohio has received an archive of documents relating to Mary Church Terrell. The papers were donated by Raymond and Jean Langston, the current occupant of the home in Highland Beach, Maryland, where Terrell died. The collection includes documents, letters, diaries, photographs and other artifacts, some dating to the 1890s and earlier.
Mary Church Terrell was the daughter of former slaves. She was a 1884 graduate of Oberlin College and went on to become a teacher and principal of M Street Colored High School, now known as Dunbar High School. Terrell was the founding president of the National Association of Colored Women and was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Terrell was the first African American woman to serve on the Washington, D.C. Board of Education.
In 1949, Terrell, then in her 80s, was refused service at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. She filed suit and in a case eventually decided by the Supreme Court, racial segregation of restaurants in the nation’s capital was ruled unconstitutional.
Mary Church Terrell died on July 24, 1954 at the age of 90.
In the mid-1800’s, it wasn’t easy to be an African-American woman with professional aspirations. But Sarah Jane Woodson Early wasn’t just a hard-working and multi-tasking professional woman—she was a woman ahead of her time. Educating was her life’s passion and in 1858, she became the first African American female college professor. Throughout her life she taught, gave lectures and also worked as an author, black nationalist, and temperance advocate.
Born a free woman in Chillicothe, OH, on Nov. 15, 1825, Early’s upbringing served as the basis for her activist and academic spirit. Her parents, Thomas and Jemima Woodson, founded the first black Methodist church of west of the Alleghenies. They also founded Berlin Crossroads, a separate black farming community. Although there was never any supporting historical evidence, her father believed he was the oldest son of Sally Hemings and President Thomas Jefferson.