Mary Lou Williams Collection at
the Institute of Jazz Studies



Collection at IJS

Early Roots

Kansas City & the Clouds of Joy

Modern Jazz & Cafe Society

William Gottlieb Photo Essay, 1947

Europe & Travels in the 50's

Chuck Stewart Photo Essay, 1957

Religious Conversion

Lioness in Winter

Discography & Related Links

William's big band scores have been the basis for programming in the 1980s and 1990s for some of jazz's most prestigious repertory companies: Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, and the now-defunct American Jazz Orchestra at Cooper Union under the direction of John Lewis. (American Jazz Orchestra scores of jazz classics are now part of the IJS Archives.) Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra is currently planning tribute concerts to Williams in the year 2000 at Flushing Town Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center. The late choreographer Nanette Bearden used sound recordings and music manuscripts from the Collection for tributes to Williams by the Contemporary Dance Theater between 1985 and 1988. William's arrangements, provided by Fr. O'Brien, have also been heard on Garrison Keillor's popular radio broadcast, A Prairie Home Companion.

The ties reproduced here came from Louis Armstrong, one of Williams' many famous musician friends donating merchandise to raise funds for her charitable thrift stores in Harlem in the 1960s.

Morning Glory: A Biography of Mary Lou Williams by Linda Dahl was published by Pantheon Books in 2000. Book jacket photograph by Bert Stern

Williams is the subject of an exhibit being prepared by Dr. Marc Miller, curator of the 1994 exhibit Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy. The exhibit, Mary Lou Williams: In Her Own Right, will open at Flushing Town Hall in September 2000 before traveling to the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University in Durham, NC in January 2001.

William's work has drawn attention in other quarters. Smithsonian Institution Archivist Annie Kuebler, who inventoried her music manuscripts at IJS in 1998, discussed Mary Lou William's sacred works alongside those of Ellington during the Ellington '99 Conference in Washington in May. William's life is examined in a biography written by Linda Dahl published in spring of 2000 by Pantheon (Random House). Dahl, author of Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen (1984), has performed much of her research from the unprocessed papers now in the IJS Archives.

Trumpeter Dave Douglas' Williams tribute, Soul on Soul, was named 1999 Jazz Album of the Year in Down Beat Critics' Poll. CD jacket photograph by Gjon Mili

The Williams Papers have inspired two Ph.D. dissertations and two master's theses in African-American Studies and Music History. Music manuscripts and other materials in the Williams Collection were instrumental in the making of Joanne Burke's 1990 film on Williams, Music on My Mind. (The Williams Collection was, in turn, the beneficiary of the unedited videotaped performances and interviews by Williams used in the film.) Smithsonian-Folkways is currently working toward producing some of William's previously unreleased recordings. In addition, Williams is the featured subject in over 40 Internet web sites.

Since 1996, her memory has been honored with the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The event features musical performances, provides an opportunity for Williams scholars and fans to interact, and stages seminars to impart practical career advice to women jazz musicians. "The Festival is our attempt to showcase some of the many contemporary women musicians that Mary Lou Williams would have applauded and encouraged," said Dr. Billy Taylor, artistic director of the Center's jazz program. Thus, growing awareness of William's contributions to jazz history further underscores the need to preserve and disseminate the significant holdings at IJS. The Mary Lou Williams Collection will continue to benefit not only scholars in jazz history and musicology, but can be expected to draw researchers from diverse academic disciplines as African-American Studies, Women's Studies, and American Social History. Moreover, by facilitating concerts, exhibits, recordings, as well as making portions of the collection available on the Web, this project will introduce a wider public to the life and work of this extraordinary figure.