Illustration of musician with saxophone

MTW Conference Celebrates Powerful Role of Music in Black History

Music’s power to forge community, provide refuge in troubled times, and move us toward better futures will be on display as the 38th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series (MTW) brings together eminent artists and scholars to explore the social life of music in black history. The annual Black History Month conference will be held on Saturday, February 17, 2018, beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Paul Robeson Campus Center, 350 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., on the campus of Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N).  The conference is organized annually by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at RU-N.

At a time when artistic production is so closely interwoven with issues of power, politics, and development, The Space Between the Notes: The Social Life of Music in Black History seeks to draw wisdom from music’s history of helping imagine and create a more inclusive and just city, nation, and world.

This year, the Price Institute brings to Newark renowned musicians and scholars whose pioneering and award-winning work has powerfully shaped America’s understanding of music’s history and its role in contemporary life. The first is Stefon Harris, Grammy-nominated jazz vibraphonist, composer, and educator. Heralded as “one of the most important artists in jazz” by the Los Angeles Times, he is currently the associate dean and director of the Jazz Arts Department at the Manhattan School of Music. Harris will deliver the MTW keynote lecture.

The day’s other speakers and performers will be:

  • Farah Jasmine Griffin, Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies and the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University, and author of Who Set You Flowin?: The African American Migration Narrative; If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday; and Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II, among other works;

  • Daphne Brooks, Professor of African American Studies, Theater Studies, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, and author of Bodies in Dissent:  Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910; Jeff Buckley’s Grace; and the forthcoming Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Archive, the Critic, and Black Feminist Musicking; 

  • Alexis Morrast, phenomenal teenage vocalist and songwriter who has performed at NJPAC, the Apollo, the Kennedy Center, and innumerable other venues and clubs and whose first demo disc, Introducing Alexis Morrast, is now available

Following the conference, MTW attendees are invited to a reception in the Engelhard Court of the Newark Museum, 49 Washington Street. The reception will feature food and live musical entertainment by The Bradford Hayes Trio.

           All events are free and open to the public.  

The MTW lecture series was co-founded in 1981 by the late Dr. Clement A. Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at Rutgers University, and the late Giles R. Wright, director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission. Over the past 37 years, the conference has drawn thousands of people to Rutgers University-Newark and has attracted some of the nation’s foremost scholars, artists, and humanists in the field of African and African American history and culture. It has become one of the nation's leading scholarly programs specifically devoted to enhancing the historical literacy of an intercultural community.

The annual conference was named for East Orange native Dr. Marion Thompson Wright, a pioneer in African-American historiography and race relations in New Jersey, a pioneering historian of race and education, and among the earliest professionally trained women historians in the nation.

The Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series is presented by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience; the Federated Department of History, Rutgers University-Newark/New Jersey Institute of Technology; and the Department of African American and African Studies. The 2018 conference is made possible by funds and support from: Prudential Financial, the New Jersey Historical Commission/Department of State, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.