November 3, 2016

Williams remembered by Jazz Heritage Orchestra

Before sounds of horns and percussion could fill the Main Classroom Auditorium, a moment of silence commenced the performance of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra.

Friends, family members and colleagues of Dr. Michael Williams filled the auditorium to commemorate the life and legacy of the late Black Studies Program director Saturday, Oct. 22.

President Ronald Berkman, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS), and  Black Studies program presented the orchestral performance.

Williams was an Associate Professor of Black Studies at Cleveland State University and was instrumental in creating both the Jazz Heritage Orchestra and the Black Studies bachelor’s degree.

The Orchestra formed in 1998 and its mission is to present the musical heritage of jazz. The group is comprised of musicians from around the nation who play guitar, piano, drums, bongos, trombones, saxophones, clarinets and trumpets.

During the concert, horn players puffed their cheeks and pressed brass valves to play the sounds of jazz innovators like Dizzy Gillespie. Edward A. McKinney, Ph. D., professor emeritus of the School of Social Work, was a friend and colleague of Williams. He spoke during the ceremony, highlighting Williams’s love for jazz music.

“Jazz speaks to the trials, tribulations and jubilations of oppressed people,” McKinney said. “Jazz is about redemption and salvation.”

McKinney also shared memories and observations of Williams from his years in college.

“I concluded very early in my relations with Dr. Williams that he would become a very special person - not just as a student, but as a social servant,” said McKinney, who met Dr. Williams while teaching at Case Western Reserve. “I was convinced he was going to make an imprint on society, including our field of social work.”

Dennis Reynolds, artistic director of the orchestra, introduced each song and offered thoughts about Williams.

“Our whole concert tonight is in memory of our brother and we all loved him dearly,” Reynolds said. “We’re having a ball up here, but our hearts are heavy at the same time.”

According to Berkman Williams was a proponent of the arts, a mentor to students and student organizations, and a link between Cleveland State and the Cleveland community.

“The untimely passing of Dr. Michael Williams on July 12, 2016, was a sad blow not only to our Cleveland State family, but to the Cleveland family at large,” said Berkman, who described Williams as a leading voice of reason and justice. “[Williams] used the resources of the Black Studies Program to create dialogue and to highlight issues of unfairness and inequality.”

Other speakers included Interim Director of the Black Studies Program, Donna M. Whyte, Ph. D. and Dean of CLASS Gregory Sadlek.


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