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Wynton Marsalis to Be Awarded Ken Burns American Heritage Prize

The trumpeter, composer, and Jazz at Lincoln Center co-founder has been a frequent collaborator with filmmaker Burns

Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis (photo: Joe Martinez)

Wynton Marsalis will receive the American Prairie Reserve (APR)’s 2020 Ken Burns American Heritage Prize, APR announced yesterday.

Named for the celebrated documentary filmmaker, the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize is given each year to an individual “whose achievements have advanced our collective understanding of America’s heritage.” The prize was created in 2017. Its past recipients include historian David McCullough, designer/artist Maya Lin, and novelist N. Scott Momaday.

Recipients are chosen each year by a national jury of scholars, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and community activists. Gerald Parsky, chairman of the Aurora Capital Group, served as the 2020 jury chair.

Marsalis, a jazz trumpeter born and raised in New Orleans, is the co-founder and managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) in New York. Through JALC, he has created and sponsored numerous initiatives for jazz performance, promotion, advocacy, and education. He is a tireless advocate for classic traditional jazz and an acclaimed and decorated performer. Among other honors, he is (with his entire musical family) an NEA Jazz Master, and he won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his large-scale jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields, the first ever jazz musician to receive the award.

Marsalis has also enjoyed a collaborative relationship with filmmaker Burns. He was a consultant and primary talking head on Burns’ 10-part 2000 documentary Jazz; wrote the score for Burns’ 2004 Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; contributed original music to his The War (2007) and Prohibition (2011); and was an on-camera commentator for this year’s Country Music.


The American Prairie Reserve is an independent nonprofit organization that is working to build the world’s largest nature reserve in the Continental United States. Currently, APR has acquired more than 400,000 acres in northeastern Montana, part of a projected 3.2-million-acre completed reserve.

Marsalis will receive the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize on May 6, 2020 at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.