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Wadada Leo Smith to Receive UCLA Medal on November 8

The trumpeter and composer is in line for the university's highest honor

Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith (photo: William Matczynski)

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith will be presented with the UCLA Medal at a ceremony and concert held on Nov. 8 at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music.

The medal is the university’s highest honor. Musicians who have received it in the past include Plácido Domingo, Ella Fitzgerald, and Quincy Jones.

“Wadada Leo Smith is a category-defying composer whose achievements have profoundly shaped American music,” Chancellor Gene Block, who will present the award, says in a press release. “His work exemplifies a diversity of original thought that has enriched the lives of others, demonstrating UCLA’s highest academic and professional values.”

Smith, who is 77, was born in Mississippi and in the late 1960s became a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. He released his first album in 1972. He has played with Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, and other notable avant-garde performers. In 2013, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Ten Freedom Summers, his four-disc box set focusing primarily on the civil rights movement.

“Wadada Leo Smith’s life and work exemplifies the fertile intersection of theory and creativity that we encourage our students to explore,” Eileen Strempel, dean of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, says in the release. “We are delighted to honor him at UCLA for his brilliance, his genuine care for others, and the scholarly significance of his work.”


The medal ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 8, in the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center Ensemble Room at UCLA. It will be followed immediately by a concert featuring Smith’s String Quartet No. 9, movement 3 (“Angela Davis”), and one movement from his String Quartet No. 11 with the RedKoral Quartet. In addition, an excerpt from his Four Symphonies will feature Smith on trumpet, with UCLA professor Nina Sun Eidsheim on vocalist and CalArts professor Vicky Ray on piano. The ceremony and performance are free and open to the public, but advance reservations are required. Go here for more information.