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Mary Lou William’s Report

Mary Lou William’s Report

“During the years I was with Andy Kirk we starved almost. I remember not eating for practically a month several times. But we were very, very happy because the music was so interesting, and you forgot to eat, anyway.”

–Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou Williams was born on May 10, 1910, in Atlanta, Georgia, as Mary Elfreda Winn. She never knew her father until she was in her twenties. Her mother drank and worked doing a lot of laundry to support the kids. Her mother also liked to play the reed organ and kept Mary there while she practiced. One day Mary began to play. Her mom was so astonished she dropped Mary and ran to tell the neighbors to watch Mary Play. Williams was able to play by ear. The easiest she could play was Ragtime. What was so amazing about Mary was that she never needed to read music, and she never needed lessons. Since Mary was already good at playing the piano and was able to perform the family thought of it as a ticket out of Atlanta and in 1914 they moved to Pittsburgh. When Marry moved there her first job was in a bar. She earned 20 dollars for playing the piano.

One of Marry’s nicknames was “The little piano girl”.

At the age of 12 she was already in a band. In 1922 after a African American there came to town to play one of the musicians got sick. Business Managers learned of William’s Power and Will to play. Williams didn’t stay in High School. She left in in the 1920’s to be in a famous act. She got married around then. She also started making her own recordings and people around world-wide began to notice her. She even got enough money to have almost a week long engagement.

In a show called the Seymour and Jennette Show she fell in love with a guy named John Williams. A couple years later they got married. Later, she then moved to Oklahoma. Within a couple of years the band moved its base to Kansas City. She became not only a full time pianist but a very nice musical arranger. Williams’ made very well arrangements. Everyone began to here about Mary as the biggest jazz bandleaders of the day. Soon she began working with Duke Ellington. In the 1930s, she was one of the leading Woman in Kansas City jazz scene. In 1940 her marriage and the Kirk band had started to break down. Williams broke up with Kirk and married a trumpet player “baker”.

In the 1970s she toured throughout the U.S. and Europe as both a solo artist and with a trio. Along the way she performed at numerous international jazz festivals on television even the White House. Williams’s made one last recording. The following year at the age of 69 she was diagnosed with cancer. It lasted for about two years. But she didn’t stop. She kept teaching at schools. She died in 1981. In 1990 she became the first woman instrumentalist honored wonderful glory. When she died, Williams left behind a musical legacy that few people of any gender or race can match.

By: Jada Kimbrough


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