Music’s Role in Black History: 2018 Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series

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Detail of Joseph Holston’s Jazz (1990); courtesy of the artist


Feb. 17 Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Explores Social Roles of Music in African-American History
Four-time, Grammy-nominated, jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris will deliver the keynote.

(Newark, NJ – Jan. 31, 2018) – Four-time, Grammy-nominated, jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris will deliver the keynote lecture on Sat., Feb. 17, 2018, at the 38th Annual Marion Thompson Wright (MTW) Lecture Series, “The Space Between the Notes: The Social Life of Music in Black History.” Hosted by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N), the annual Black History Month conference will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Paul Robeson Campus Center at RU-N, 350 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and also will feature Farrah Jasmine Griffin, Daphne Brooks, and Alexis Jessica Morrast.

Following the conference, MTW attendees are invited to a reception at the Newark Museum. The reception will feature food, drink, and live musical entertainment by The Bradford Hayes Trio.

All events are free and open to the public.

This year’s lecture weaves together the academic and the artistic to explore the social roles of music in black history. Speakers and performers will delve into the history and current state of music in the black diaspora from a variety of angles. At a time when artistic production is so closely interwoven with Newark’s continued development, the lecture will seek to draw lessons from music’s history of helping to imagine and create a more inclusive and just city, nation, and world. Together, the featured speakers and performers will offer a profound demonstration of music’s power to forge community, provide refuge in troubled times, and move individuals and communities toward better futures.

The keynote lecture will be delivered by Stefon Harris, four time Grammy-nominated jazz vibraphonist, recipient of the prestigious Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, and eight-time best mallet player as determined by the Jazz Journalists Association. Harris received his bachelor of music degree in classical music and master of music degree in jazz performance at Manhattan School of Music. He teaches in person at universities throughout the world and virtually via his Distance Learning Studio, has led curriculum development at the Brubeck Institute, and serves as artistic director of jazz education at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

The day’s other lecturers and performers will be:

  • Farrah Jasmine Griffin, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University. Griffin's major fields of interest are American and African American literature, music, history and politics. The recipient of numerous honors and awards for her teaching and scholarship, Professor Griffin was a fellow at the New York Public Library Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers in 2006-2007. She is the author of Who Set You Flowin’: The African American Migration Narrative (Oxford, 1995); If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (Free Press, 2001); and Clawing At the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (Thomas Dunne, 2008).
  • Daphne Brooks, Professor of African American Studies and Theater Studies at Yale University. Professor Brooks is the author of two books: Bodies in Dissent:  Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910 (Durham, NC: Duke UP), winner of The Errol Hill Award for Outstanding Scholarship on African American Performance from the American Society for Theatre Research; and Jeff Buckley’s Grace (New York: Continuum, 2005).  Brooks is currently working on a new book entitled Subterranean Blues: Black Women Sound Modernity (Harvard University Press, forthcoming). 
  • Alexis Jessica Morrast, celebrated sixteen-year-old jazz singer and recording artist. A native of Newark, and presently residing in Plainfield, Ms. Morrast began singing in church at the age of three and led her first solo in the adult choir by the age of seven. Since that time she has performed on numerous stages including at the U.S. Open, Delta's in New Brunswick, the Central Jersey Jazz Festival (featuring trumpet player Sean Jones), the Rutgers Garden Summer Solstice Jazz &Wine, NJPAC (with Christian McBride), South Jazz Kitchen, Warmdaddy's in Philadelphia, and Harlem’s world-renowned Apollo Theater, where she was twice named winner of Amateur Night and later returned as a special guest to perform during the Harlem Week Festival.

The MTW lecture series was co-founded in 1981 by the late Dr. Clement A. Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at Rutgers University, and the late Giles R. Wright, director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission. Over the past 37 years, the conference has drawn thousands of people to RU-N and has attracted some of the nation’s foremost scholars and humanists in the field of African and African-American history and culture. It has become one of the nation's leading scholarly programs specifically devoted to enhancing the historical literacy of an intercultural community.

The annual conference was named for East Orange native Dr. Marion Thompson Wright, a pioneer in African-American historiography and race relations in New Jersey, a trailblazing historian of race and education, and among the earliest professionally trained women historians in the nation.

The Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series is presented by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience; the Federated Department of History, Rutgers University-Newark/New Jersey Institute of Technology; and the Department of African American and African Studies. The 2018 conference is made possible by funds and support from: Prudential, the New Jersey Historical Commission/Department of State, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

For additional information about the program, visit the Price Institute’s website at

All media inquiries should be directed to Kimberlee Williams, RU-N director of communications and marketing, at<> or 973-353-5262.