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Celebrating the Legacy of Mary Lou Williams, ‘Mother of Bebop’

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At the start of Black History Month, Fordham’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies hosted an event examining the legacy of pioneering jazz pianist-composer and Catholic convert Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).

Deanna Witkowski, a pianist and composer who is working on a new biography of Williams, performed several pieces by the late jazz legend on Feb. 4 in Duane Library’s Butler Commons on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. In between songs, Witkowski talked about Williams’ musical accomplishments, her feelings about jazz, and her life of service to others.

“Mary Lou often said that she believed that jazz should be played on the sidewalks, in churches, in community centers, in concert halls, in schools,” Witkowski told the audience. “And Mary Lou Williams was a major jazz pianist and composer who played in all of those places.”

Known as the “Mother of Bebop” who also wrote liturgical jazz, Williams was admired by jazz icons Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Dizzy Gillespie.

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