A Trombonist & Composer/Arranger Extraordinaire!

Her singular sound and harmonically rich compositions touched millions.


Musician loved her – one of the few women who mastered jazz trombone. And perhaps without knowing it, music lovers have heard and fallen in love with her sonorous arrangements for bandleaders like Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerald Wilson and her longtime collaborator, pianist Randy Weston. Also, singers as varied as Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell, Gloria Lynn and Abby Lincoln loved the way Melba’s arrangements wrapped around and supported their voices.

Her name was Melba Liston, and in April 1999 at the age of 73, she joined her ancestors.

But oh, the music Melba left behind!  If you’d like to hear the feature I produced about Melba’s prodigious talent – and her lifelong struggles – click on the red circle at the top of the following link from NPR’s Jazz Profiles series.

thThankfully, in 2016 Melba’s story is now accessible to a younger generation through the children’s book Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katherine Russell-Brown, wonderfully illustrated by artist Frank Morrison.

Check out Little Melba if you can, and celebrate Melba Liston!



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A Historic Museum Moment & A Birthday Recognition

Every calendar month, regardless of the year, decade or century, shepherds in its own joyous and heart-wrenching moments.

September is no exception.

This month regularly calls to children and adults of all ages to start or settle into a new school year. Its Labor Day marks the unofficial end to relaxed summer living and the beginning of more spirited fall days. And September is the month that four young African American girls senselessly lost their lives in a racially motivated 1963 Birmingham church bombing, while approximately 3,000 Americans of all races and backgrounds died in plane-fueled terrorist attacks on this month’s 11th day in 2001.


September 2016 will provide its own unique milestone. Years in the making, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will open its doors on Washington DC’s National Mall this September 24th. This museum promises to illuminate the depth and breathe of the Black American experience in all its innovation, pain and progress.

NMAAHC Director Lonnie Bunch III says that the museum will tell “the quintessential American story.” While that story may be based in a specific culture, Bunch maintains that it is everyone’s story. In that declaration, Bunch echoes the sentiments of pioneering and award-winning African American writer/dramatist Richard Durham – born 99 years ago this September 6th. 

Back in the late 1940s, Richard Durham believed that the Black American experience represented a microcosm of “the human condition of the main body of people in the world.” In Durham’s view, oppression combined with poverty, inadequate education and health care, adversely affected most of the world’s population. Therefore, he said, the story of Blacks in America would resonate with millions of people who “also want to uproot poverty and prejudice.”

Based on this philosophy, Durham created compelling radio and TV dramas, newspaper articles and other media products about African American heroes and heroines like Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois, Lena Horne and Muhammad Ali. The artifacts of many of such notable men and women will be featured in the NMAAHC.

So why not join me in celebrating Richard Durham’s 99th birthday and the highly anticipated birth of the Smithsonian’s newest museum by visiting Washington, DC’s National Mall this month? And to read more about Director Lonnie Bunch’s journey to make the NMAAHC a reality, click here.

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Honoring 42 – Jack “Jackie” Roosevelt Robinson

This April 11th and 12th, PBS member stations nationwide aired Ken Burns’ documentary about baseball legend Jackie Robinson.

Robinson, a Georgia-born, right-handed batter, debuted on the Brooklyn Dodgers team on April 15, 1947. He primarily played second base. But he knew his way around the other bases, running and stealing them with ease. Robinson became the National Baseball League’s MVP in 1949, and during his 10 years with the Dodgers, the team won six pennants.

Jackie Robinson was also the first African American to play in the then all-white major leagues.

The Brooklyn Dodgers recruited Robinson from the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs team during a time when America legally mandated that black and white races remain separate – and unequal. Robinson’s endured countless racially motivated threats, insults and discrimination as he integrated one of the country’s most popular sports.

But Robinson persevered. As a result, scores of black and other players of color followed him onto America’s baseball fields. And because of his fortitude and talent, Robinson became a Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 1962.

Burns’ Jackie Robinson documentary is just the latest in a long line of media tributes. One of the earliest dramatic rendering of Robinson’s feats aired November 21, 1949 on WMAQ in Chicago.

YOUNG DURHAMThe Rime of the Ancient Dodger was writer Richard Durham’s poetically whimsical take on Robinson’s story – an episode in his award-winning Destination Freedom radio series.

To hear Durham’s show, featuring a young Studs Terkel (who would go on to become an award-winning writer and radio personality) as an ancient, all-knowing Dodgers fan, and an even younger Oscar Brown Jr. (who became a popular entertainer and activist) as Robinson, click here (and choose episode #16).



And to hear a minute long tribute to Robinson from one of my Howard University students, click below.




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