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Lift Every Voice and SwingBlack Musicians and Religious Culture in the Jazz Century$
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Vaughn A. Booker

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781479892327

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479892327.001.0001

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Jazz Communion

Jazz Communion

(p.187) 7 Jazz Communion
Lift Every Voice and Swing

Vaughn A. Booker

NYU Press

This chapter charts Mary Lou Williams’s decision to become a Roman Catholic. As she made this religious journey, she engaged in several critical conversations with God, with close friends, with two jazz-loving white Catholic priests, and with several other jazz musicians. Williams also engaged in conversations with various publics: a black public, through African American print publications; and the professional jazz public, whose musicians she claimed had lost their creativity in the modern musical era. This first group of conversation partners compelled her return to performing and composing music. Aiding them were her new Catholic clergy friends, who urged her to reconsider the jazz profession as remaining worthy of her divine musical talents. Williams expressed the hope that her conversations with the professional jazz world would prompt meaningful conversions for them. She argued that the fruits of this labor would be the revival of black musical creativity. To safeguard what Williams defined as God’s gifts of creative African American music and musicians, she called for practices of care and accountability within the jazz community.

Keywords:   Mary Lou Williams, Hazel Scott, Bud Powell, conversion, Black Catholicism, accountability, creativity

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