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Luther Henderson’s Widow Establishes Scholarship Fund

The sound of jazz is an American sound, and it’s one that Billie Allen-Henderson (pictured) hopes to keep hearing.

“You travel all over the world and you hear this music, this wonderful music, that we in the States are famous for-from the New York theatre, to musical theatre, to jazz,” she explains.

And to help ensure that the legacy of American musicians continues to grow, Allen-Henderson has established a new scholarship program within the Juilliard School in New York City in memory of her late husband, arranger and composer Luther Henderson.

“We always knew that we wanted to establish a scholarship to help up-and-coming musicians and young music students to give them a leg up, to give them encouragement,” she said.

The Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund (LHSF) will grant five music scholarships to students of color, meant to help them to pursue their aspirations while relieving the financial burdens of a college education from their families.

“When Luther was at Juilliard his parents were underpaid public school teachers in New York City,” Allen-Henderson explained. Henderson, who graduated in 1942, was one of the first students of colored to be admitted into the school. “There were not scholarships offered to him, but they paid those bills. They got him through Julliard.”

After college, Henderson went on to have an illustrious and accomplished career in jazz and musical theatre as an arranger, composer and orchestrator for more than 50 Broadway musicals. He was nominated for the Tony Award in 1992 for Best Score for his work with Jelly Roll Morton for the production Jelly’s Last Jam, and again in 1997 for Best Orchestrations for Play On!.

Henderson also was an arranger for Duke Ellington’s orchestral works, and he also arranged more than 100 pieces for the Canadian Brass Quintet. Henderson posthumously received a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004.

Families may have some trepidation about their students entering the world of the arts, Allen-Henderson said, but the scholarship is a way to reassure those families and welcome them with open arms. “It’s a way to let them know to it’s OK, come on in, the water’s fine!” she says.

Allen-Henderson hopes to give incoming Juilliard students a home in the cultural and creative epicenter of New York City where they can be “prepared and ready to go” for a career in the world of the arts.

“There is a whole group of mentors here ready to include them and to embrace them and to counsel them and push them along,” she said. “A whole New York family.”

The LHSF was formed with the guidance of an advisory committee that includes the governor of New York, David Paterson, and his wife as honorary chairs. Other members include Phylicia Rashad, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Regina Carter and Lilias White.

Plans to get the scholarship in gear are already underway. On Oct. 6, a benefit gala entitled “Spreadin’ the Rhythm Around” will be held at Juilliard’s Jay Sharp Theatre to fundraise. Hosted by director George C. Wolfe, the celebration will include performances by many of those who worked with Henderson including singer Nancy Wilson, the Canadian Brass Quintet, Savion Glover and Hank Jones.

“There will be many surprises,” promises Allen-Henderson.

Ticket prices for the event are as follows:

$100/250 – Single ticket

$500 – Single ticket to the concert, entrance to pre-concert cocktail reception

$1,000 – Single ticket to the concert, entrance to the pre-concert cocktail reception along, and entrance into the VIP post-concert cocktail reception hosted by Governor and Mrs. David Paterson, Billie Allen-Henderson, George C. Wolfe and concert performers.

$5,000 – Two tickets to the concert along with entrance to the pre and post cocktail receptions, plus dinner for two at a reception at Wolfe’s Manhattan home on Oct. 5th.

$25,000 – Six VIP tickets to the concert, entrance to the pre and post-cocktail receptions, plus dinner for six at Wolfe’s Manhattan home on Oct. 5th.

Further information about the fundraiser, as well as more information on how to donate to the fund, is available at Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund. (Note: The Web site was not yet up and running when this article was posted.) Tickets will be available at that site or at the Juilliard Box office in New York beginning Sept. 3.

For inquiries, donations or to reserve your tickets in advance, please email [email protected].

Originally Published