Mary Lou Williams in performance at the Keystone Korner, San Francisco, May 1977.
Photo by Tom Copi.
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On May 8, 2000, the great jazz pianist, composer, arranger, educator and humanitarian Mary Lou Williams would have turned 90. She would have been delighted and felt vindicated to see the current renaissance of the recording and performing of her music. Williams' enhanced visibility goes hand in hand with a renewed appreciation for the extraordinary life that produced such a distinguished body of work that defies easy definition. She has few peers. Her unusual odyssey in jazz parallels the path the music took from Louis Armstrong's heyday to avant-garde and beyond, especially where her sacred music is concerned. Mary Lou Williams retained distinctive musicianship and creative drive throughout her seven decades in jazz. It is this achievement to which Soul on Soul is dedicated.

That Williams's legacy will grow in depth and luster was assured with the conclusion of an agreement in 1999 between the Institute of Jazz Studies and the Mary Lou Williams Foundation. The foundation, created by Williams to further jazz education and the promotion of her music, donated nearly 200 boxes of personal papers and writings, music manuscripts, rare and original sound recordings, photographs, scrapbooks and other memorabilia to the Institute. A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities made it possible for work on archival processing to begin in the fall of 2000 under the direction of Project Archivist Annie Kuebler, a twelve-year veteran of the Duke Ellington Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. The Recording Academy (NARAS) has awarded the Institute additional funds to preserve recordings found in the Williams Collection.

“The depth and breadth of this collection is amazing - everything from scores to major compositions to cocktail napkins on which night club patrons wrote down requests for Mary,” said Dan Morgenstern, IJS Director.

This online exhibit, a collaboration between the Institute of Jazz Studies and the Dana Library Media and Digital Services, draws on treasures from the Mary Lou Williams Collection to tell her story. But, the exhibit sets out to accomplish much more: to provide updates on the processing and use of the collection, guide researchers to recordings by Williams herself and others who have played her music, and detail sources on her career. The exhibit utilizes the latest technical advances in capturing images and sound to give wider expression to an inherently musical story.

These web pages, drawing upon materials from the collection, seek to correct the record on one of the most widely held misconceptions about Williams. She was indeed one of the finest female musicians in jazz, but is also one of jazz's greatest figures, period.


The creation of Soul on Soul is a collaboration of the Institute of Jazz Studies and Media and Digital Services, both located in the Dana Library on the Newark Campus of Rutgers-the State University of New Jersey. The project resulted from a summer class project in Database Management Systems under the direction of Mike Chumer, director of Media and Digital services, and Tad Hershorn, archivist of the Institute of Jazz Studies. Other Dana personnel taking part in the project were Ka-Neng Au, Systems Librarian, and Bill Majors, Video Coordinator.

Seven of Chumer's students-Karyn Park, Ranyoung Lim, Patrick Champoux, Dayang Ji, Sangeeta Roy, Althea Miller and Jeanne Kimbrough-exhibited extraordinary creativity and discipline as they set about their task. Together, they overcame design and technical questions involved in combining the photographs, writings by Hershorn and IJS Director Dan Morgenstern, and sound recordings into this finished product.

Special thanks go to Fr. Peter F. O'Brien, S.J., Williams' last manager and director of the Mary Lou Williams Foundation who facilitated donation of the collection. Fr. O'Brien assisted in editing the photographs used in this exhibit and proofread captions and text for accuracy. His expertise shines in his compilation of “Selected Recordings and Readings” featured on this web site.

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