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New Mary Lou Williams Release

Pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams, who died in 1981, will add another album to her 28 existing titles this February: Mary Lou’s Mass. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, who also released three of her previous albums, will release this album for the first time on CD on Feb. 22, 2005.

The remastered album will contain seven bonus tracks, including material in honor of her 1969 piece Music for Peace, two hymns written in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the time of his assassination and rare singles from 1972.

Mary Lou’s Mass is described as “gospel tinged, innovative, dynamic, sometimes funky, and always profoundly stirring” in a press release, while Williams herself described it as “music for the soul.” Tammy Kernodle, a professor of American music at Miami University Ohio and author of the album’s liner notes, explained Williams’ intention in writing Mary Lou’s Mass.

“Mary wanted this mass to address the contemporary social problems of the Vietnam War, racism, and the overwhelming lack of compassion that many displayed. She drew heavily from biblical scripture and extemporized the traditional texts so that they reflected a contemporary context,” Kernodle wrote in the liner notes.

Williams had a long and respected career in jazz during a period of both prevalent racism and sexism. She is best remembered as a member of Andy Kirk’s orchestra and as a writer and arranger for Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie and Tommy Dorsey. After undergoing a spiritual crisis in 1954 that led her to confirmation in the Catholic Church, she began to combine jazz and liturgical music. After King’s assassination, she wrote the two hymns featured on this album, “Tell Him Not to Talk too Long” and “I Have a Dream.” Both of these hymns were broadcast live on Vatican Radio in 1968 and a year later, under a papal commission, she wrote Mass for Peace in memory of the assassinated Kenyan leader Tom Mboya.

Originally Published