The University of Kansas School of Music acknowledges its history of participation in the systemic exclusion and marginalization of under-represented communities of people in our society. The Nicholas L. Gerren, Sr. Hall of Achievement is one attempt to begin redressing these offenses.
The purpose of this hall, located on the 2nd floor of Murphy Hall, is to honor the life and career of alumni, faculty, and staff from the KU School of Music who, despite exclusion and marginalization, made a positive impact in the field of music.
Nicholas Gerren persevered during a time when, for many people around him, the color of his skin suggested that he should be marginalized and excluded from reaping the benefits of this country’s cultural and educational institutions.
This hall is to show respect for the lives and careers of people of color, such as Nicholas Gerren, who succeeded despite the barriers of Institutional Racism.
William P. Foster (1919-2010) grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, where he studied clarinet. He earned a BME (1941) from KU, MA (1950) from Wayne State University, and EdD (1955) from Columbia University. After two years of high school instruction, he moved into college level teaching, finally leading the Florida A&M University “Marching 100” from 1946 to 1998, making it a premier, influential ensemble known for its high-stepping showmanship, dancing, rapid tempos, and international appearances. Foster became president of the American Bandmasters Association, a member of the National Council on the Arts, and was inducted into numerous halls of fame.
Etta Moten Barnett (1901-2004), born in Weimar, Texas, earned a BA in voice and drama (1931) from KU. She joined the Eva Jessye Choir in New York and appeared in several Broadway productions, including in her signature role as Bess in a famous revival of Porgy and Bess (1942-44), with which she also toured. Her Hollywood career included solos in Gold Diggers of 1933 and Flying Down to Rio (1933). Moten’s performing career ended in 1952. Later she hosted I Remember When on radio in Chicago, was a civic leader, and served as an American cultural representative to African nations.
Nathan Davis (1937-2018) was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and earned a BM in Music Education (1960) from the University of Kansas, an MM and Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from the Sorbonne (1968) and Wesleyan University (1974). He spent most of the 1960s in Paris as a multi-instrumentalist and played with jazz luminaries, performing on more than 20 albums as a sideman and leader. He returned to the United States in 1969 and founded the jazz program at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969, one of the first in the country. He composed over 200 works, including Jazzopera Up Above My Head.
Carmell Jones (1936-1996) was born in Kanas City, Kansas. After service in the Air Force he used the G.I. Bill to enroll at University of Kansas (music education trumpet, 1958-1960). He later moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and played trumpet as studio musician for films and regarded as one of the best trumpeters of early 1960s West Coast scene. He moved to Berlin in 1968, where he played with the Radio Free Berlin Big Band Orchestra. He was active as a sideman in both the United States and Europe. His albums include Jay Hawk Talk by his eponymous quartet.
Ron McCurdy was born in Belle Glade, Florida. He earned a BS in Music Education from Florida A&M (1976), and an MM (1978) and Ph.D. (1983) in Music Education from the University of Kansas. While still a doctoral student he was appointed the first KU Director of Jazz Studies (1983); under his tenure the program gained national and international acclaim. He later served as the Director of Jazz Studies at University of Minnesota, the Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (1999-2001) and is currently a professor at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.
Walter Page (1900-1957) was born in Gallatin, Missouri, and completed the three-year music teacher training program at KU (ca. 1920) in one year. In 1925 he founded Walter Page and his Blue Devils, later joining Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, which created the distinctive style of Kansas City jazz. Count Basie took over the organization in 1935. The bassist was the key member of Basie’s “All American Rhythm section,” and is credited with making the bass a melodic instrument, as well as developing and popularizing the walking bass style that was a crucial element in the development of swing jazz.