Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jazz Artist, Teacher Honored

A public memorial and cultural tribute was held for Consuela Lee — an African-American jazz pianist, composer, arranger and teacher — at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem in New York City on Oct. 29. Lee passed away from a long illness associated with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 83 on Dec. 26, 2009, in Atlanta.

Despite an unexpected snowstorm, world-renowned jazz artists, including members of Lee’s family and former music students, traveled from around the country and the world to Harlem to honor her through song, dance and remembrances for her unique and innovative contributions to jazz and humanity. For 25 years, Lee taught music theory and composition at historic Black colleges such as Alabama State University, and Norfolk State University and Hampton Institute (now University) in Virginia. Archival video footage of Lee’s performances and interviews was shown throughout the memorial.

Lee was the artistic director at Springtree/Snow Hill Institute for the Performing Arts in Snow Hill, Ala., for 23 years. At the Institute, Lee taught rural, impoverished, African-American children how to perform classical jazz standards composed by legends like Duke Ellington, as well as her original compositions for the children and the community. Snow Hill Institute was originally founded in 1893 by Lee’s grandfather, William James Edwards, as a private boarding school for former slaves.

Following Lee’s successful effort to reopen the Institute, the U.S. government in 1995 named Snow Hill Institute a historic national landmark.

The Consuela Lee Foundation for Music Education was formed in 2010 to help carry forth the legacy by preserving her music. Lee believed that quality music should be passed down throughout the generations especially to help build pride and self-esteem for Black children living within a hostile, racist society. To learn more about the Foundation and Lee’s contributions, go to www.consuelalee.com.

— Monica Moorehead

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