MLK Spirit of Jazz Award with Jimmy Heath

In 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King penned a profound statement on the history, meaning and importance of the American music called jazz. He composed these poetic words to be included in the written program of the inaugural Berlin Jazz Festival. It is one of his least-known writings but is written with both the passion and insight of someone who lived, loved and understood the experiences that created this art form. In these words is a poignancy that rings with the clarity of truth and the strength of authenticity.

The Upperman African American Cultural Center at UNCW has chosen these words as the inspiration for an honor that we plan to annually bestow upon individuals or groups whose impact on the genre called jazz captures their spirit. The MLK Spirit of Jazz Award for the year 2012 will be presented to renowned musicians the Heath Brothers (Jimmy Heath and Albert “Tootie” Heath) on Saturday, March 10th, 7: 30 p.m. at a ceremony to be held at Thalian Hall in Wilmington, North Carolina. It will be part of a series of honors conferred upon these jazz masters prior to their “Homecoming Celebration Concert” at Thalian that is organized through a joint effort of the Cape Fear Jazz Society and the Upperman African American Cultural Center. Current UNCW students will be admitted to the concert free of charge with vouchers that may be obtained at the Upperman African American Cultural Center.

UNCW will recognize the Heath Brothers with two events to take place on the campus. On March 3rd at 3 p.m., the film “Brotherly Jazz” will be screened in the Lumina Theatre. This documentary chronicles the storied lives and careers of Jimmy Heath, Albert Heath and the now deceased Percy Heath. Admission is free of charge and open to the public.

Jimmy Heath will appear at UNCW on Friday, March 9th for a Master Class and to sign copies of his book “I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath.” The event will take place in the Gunther Skiba Room (1086) of the Cultural Arts Building at 2 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.


On the Importance of Jazz, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964

God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

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