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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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Accounting for the Vulnerable

Accounting for the Vulnerable

(p.205) 8 Accounting for the Vulnerable
Lift Every Voice and Swing

Vaughn A. Booker

NYU Press

This chapter discusses Mary Lou Williams’s work to establish the Bel Canto Foundation in the late 1950s and 1960s, primarily through her Bel Canto Thrift Shop. Williams worked tirelessly to manage her shop, to account for her finances, and to aspire to realize a support system for musicians in need. She strove to forge a new sense of community between jazz artists and the broader society. Previous analyses of the foundation effort and management of the thrift shop have not included the musicians who were recipients of Williams’s charity. Ever the meticulous recordkeeper, Williams extensively documented her foundation efforts. Her business papers add to the Bel Canto story a record of several musicians who experienced Williams’s charity, regardless of the foundation’s ultimate fate. Confident in her ability to manage a substantial project like this foundation because she had secured revenue for herself through the ongoing retrieval and management of her composition copyrights, Williams strove to become more than a regular parishioner in her new Catholic community. Williams’s daily labor comes to light as the outworking of her conception of a divine call—during the period that she and her Catholic friends contested the specific nature of this call.

Keywords:   Mary Lou Williams, Bel Canto, Black Catholicism, accountability, creativity, charity, Harlem, business, rehabilitation

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