Concert in NYC to Celebrate Jazz Legend Mary Lou Williams

Jazz great would have turned 100 next month

Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams

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May 8 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of jazz legend Mary Lou Williams. To commemorate the centennial celebration, the foundation bearing her name is holding a concert to benefit the Xavier Mission at the newly restored Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City.

The concert honoring Williams’ music will begin at 7:30 p.m. with WBGO jazz radio host Rob Crocker serving as emcee. The Mary Lou Williams foundation-founded by Williams in 1980-announced that the lineup will include the Aaron Diehl Trio, Manhattan Transfer founding member Laurel Massé, saxophonist Victor Goines and a 40-voice choir directed by the church’s music director John Uehlein.

After a long and celebrated career as a pianist, composer and arranger collaborating with jazz heavyweights such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, Williams passed away in 1981. Born in Atlanta but raised it Pittsburg, Williams taught herself to play the piano at a very young age and went on to write hundreds of compositions and arrangements and record more than 100 records.

In 1957 she converted to Catholicism and began visiting St. Francis Xavier. During that time her work moved into the realm of hymns and masses, and she composed such spiritual works as “Black Christ of the Andes” and “Praise the Lord”. Another one of her compositions from that time, “Music for Peace”, was later recorded as “Mary Lou’s Mass” and adapted for a full-length Alvin Ailey ballet. Since 2000, Williams’ archives have been preserved at the Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies.

The Xavier Mission is the community outreach program of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, located at 46 West 16th Street, and provides services such as a homeless shelter and its Welcome Table soup kitchen. The Mission has been serving the community for more than 25 years, providing those in need with free chiropractic adjustments, HIV/AIDS screening, a food pantry and clothing room, and the Life-Skills Training and Empowerment program. The concert will be the first of many events celebrating the nearly 130-year-old church’s restoration.

Advance tickets are available for $10 for students, $20 for general admission and $40 for premium seating. Tickets will also be available at the door at a slightly higher cost. Visit Church of St. Francis Xavier for more information.