National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow
Randy Weston. Man of music and of pride. Steward and champion of your people’s heritage. A self-described African born in the United States, you have helped reclaim Africa’s rightful and honorable place in both jazz and American history. In 1961, armed with the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, the encouragement and poetry of Langston Hughes, the friendship of fellow Brooklynite Max Roach, and the spiritual foundation of the black church, you lent your voice to the movement to free African peoples from the yokes of colonialism and slavery. When you went to Africa to explore your origins, you met musicians, political heroes, philosophers, and sages. You brought their rhythms, their messages of pride and dignity, back to African Americans. In your piano playing and compositions you honored the old masters while searching out your own adventurous style. Your work covers a prodigiously ambitious landscape, from the Thelonius Monk-influenced work of the late Fifties and early Sixties, to your great jazz standards “Hi-Fly” and “Little Niles,” to the groundbreaking orchestrations of Uhuru Afrika, to the 6/8 rhythms of the late, adventurous African Cookbook and The Spirits of Our Ancestors. You never accepted segregation of any kind, whether based on race or schools of jazz. Beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie and Cecil Payne and so-called free jazz artists like Billy Harper and David Murray have all joined hands with you to make exciting, original music. At age 86, with your new bands, The Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco and African Rhythms, you are still giving us deep and vital joy. In your own words: “Music was created from the universe, because our ancient ancestors … knew that music came from the universe. It was the Creator’s way of giving the people on Earth some healing, some beauty.”
By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, Randy Weston, the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you entitled.
Conferred May 20, 2012
Randy Weston is a renowned pianist, cultural ambassador, and innovator. His first album was released in 1954, and he has recorded four dozen LPs and CDs since then. A prolific composer, he is known for incorporating African elements in his music and for his collaboration over many years with the Gnawa, traditional black musicians of Morocco. He was mentored by Thelonious Monk, had Langston Hughes write liner notes for his 1960 album Uhuru Afrika, and has traveled to more than 40 countries. His autobiography, African Rhythms, was published by Duke University Press in 2010, and he continues to perform, record, and lecture on the history of jazz.