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Little Joe From Chicago

Mary Lou Williams


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May 8, 1910 - May 28, 1981


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Mary Lou Williams performs an original piano composition at the 1978 "Montreux Jazz Festival."

Mary Scruggs grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she was known as an accomplished child pianist.

After touring on the Orpheum Circuit in 1925 she began performing with Duke Ellington's early band "The Washingtonians."

In 1927 she married saxophonist John Williams an spent the next two years based in Memphis playing with his "Syncopators" before her husband left her in charge of the group, accepting an invitation to join Andy Kirks "Clouds Of Joy" in Oklahoma City.

She frequently played solo gigs and did freelance arranging for bandleaders Earl Hines, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.

Following Mary Lou Williams' divorced, she left the Kirk band in 1942 returning to Pittsburg where she worked with a six piece ensemble for a time, including Harold "Shorty" Baker and Art Blakey.

By 1945 she was performing regularly at New York's Café Society Downtown, and hosting her own weekly radio program on WNEW "Mary Lou Williams's Piano Workshop."

During this period she would begin to serve as a mentor to younger bebop musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.

Mary Lou went on an extended tour of Europe for two years beginning in 1952 and in 1956 after which a religious conversion to Catholicism began to perform more gospel referring to herself as a soul artist.

In 1977 she accepted a position teaching the History of Jazz at Duke University in addition to directing the "Duke Jazz Ensemble", where she remained an artist in residence until her death in 1981.

She made many concert appearances during her final years and performed at the White House in 1978.

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