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New Mary Lou Williams Bio on the Way

A new biography of pianist Mary Lou Williams, Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams, will be published by Northeastern University Press on April 13, 2004. Biographer Tammy L. Kernodle grabbed the title for her 348-page work from something Duke Ellington once said of Williams: “Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her writing and performing are and have always been just a little ahead and throughout her career…her music retains-and maintains-a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul.”

Williams, who lived from 1910-1981, legendary jazz pianist, composer and arranger, first began playing professionally at the age of 6 in Pittsburgh for a dollar a day, occasionally for the likes of the Mellon family. A consummate modernist and musical genius, Williams was one of the few jazz musicians to have been at the forefront of every jazz period, from swing to bop and beyond. She wrote and arranged for Ellington, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Lunceford, among others. Later, her home in New York City became a meeting place for friends and bebop-brained students like Thelonious Monk, Bird, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell. After a mid-life embracement of spirituality via the Roman Catholic Church, Williams dedicated much of her life to performing good works: she composed many sacred jazz pieces and always offered rest and rehab for struggling musicians. During the course of her 60-year career, Williams defied racism and sexism with musical genius, and prevailed.

Kernodle’s retelling of Williams’ life arrives just three years after Linda Dahl’s Morning Glory: A Biography of Mary Lou Williams. And the Kennedy Center initiated its Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival in the mid-’90s. Williams, whose music and contributions to jazz might not get the attention they deserve, seems to be getting a comeuppance. Soul on Soul will also include a selected discography of Williams’ work, a detailed bibliography and 16 illustrations. More info on the book is available at

Originally Published