The great Harry Belafonte was a Jamaican-American singer, actor and activist, who popularized calypso music with international audiences in the 1950s. His breakthrough album ‘Calypso’ (1956) was the first million-selling LP by a single artist.

Belafonte was best known for his recordings of “The Banana Boat Song”, with its signature “Day-O” lyric. He recorded and performed in many genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. He also starred in several films, including Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957), and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Belafonte considered the actor, singer, and activist Paul Robeson a mentor, and he was a close confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.Throughout his career, Belafonte was an advocate for political and humanitarian causes. From 1987 until his passing, he was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Belafonte won three Grammy Awards (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. In 1989, he received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2022 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influence category.

Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. and the Billy Strayhorn Foundation honors both the extraordinary life and passing of this history making trailblazer and legendary figure beloved worldwide.

Ahmad Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began playing piano at the age of three, when his uncle Lawrence challenged him to duplicate what he was doing on the piano. Jamal began formal piano training at the age of seven with Mary Cardwell Dawson, whom he described as having greatly influenced him. His Pittsburgh roots remained an important part of his identity. “Pittsburgh meant everything to me and it still does,” he said in 2001. It was there that he was immersed in the influence of jazz artists such as Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, and Errol Garner. Jamal also studied with pianist James Miller and began playing piano professionally at the age of fourteen, at which point he was recognized as a “coming great” by the pianist Art Tatum. Trained in both traditional jazz (“American classical music”, as he preferred to call it) and European classical style, Jamal was praised as one of the greatest jazz innovators over the course of his exceptionally long career. Following bebop greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Jamal entered the world of jazz at a time when speed and virtuosic improvisation were central to the success of jazz musicians as artists. Jamal, however, took steps in the direction of a new movement, later coined “cool jazz” – an effort to move jazz in the direction of popular music. He emphasized space between notes in his musical compositions and interpretations instead of focusing on the fast-paced bebop style. Speaking about Jamal, A.B. Spelman of the National Endowment of the Arts said: “Nobody except Thelonious Monk used space better, and nobody ever applied the artistic device of tension and release better.” These at the time unconventional techniques that Jamal gleaned from both traditional and contemporary jazz musicians helped pave the way for later jazz greats like Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton, Ethan Iverson, and  Bill Charlap. Billy Strayhorn Songs Inc. and the Billy Strayhorn Foundation honor the amazing life lived by this jazz giant.

A BIG congratulations to Berklee College of Music student and pianist Kyle Takata for being the inaugural recipient of the Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Award presented to him in Spring of 2023. The 20 year old from Jamestown, Rhode Island  grew up in a musically diverse environment that was nurtured at a young age, learning to play the saxophone before focusing on the piano around 10 years of age. Kyle graduated from North Kingstown High School in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Throughout high school, Kyles musical efforts were bolstered by his involvement with the Rhode Island Music Education Association (also known as RIMEA), further honing his musical skills. Kyle, who is a songwriting major, began his journey with Berklee in 2021. Kyle notes it has been a great experience. “The life both inside and outside of class is awesome. The more you can network is first rate.” Kyle described his musical taste as “all over the place.” 50’s jazz, 60’s Motown, 70’s soul, 80’s disco, and 2000-2010 pop are some of his favorites. Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and John Legend are among songwriters he admires. When asked how he feels about being the first recipient of the Strayhorn Jazz Education Award at Berklee, Kyles response: “From when I first received the recognition, I was shocked. I remember playing Billy’s music with RIMEA…’Chelsea Bridge, Take the A Train, Lush Life’. I asked Kyle what would he tell younger musicians as they musically grow…“I would look at this music and that being here now is an amazing time for music.” And we agree that Kyle is an amazing recipient of our first Billy Strayhorn Jazz Education Award with the Berklee College of Music. Thanks to Assistant Professor of Piano Jason Yeager and the great staff at Berklee for spearheading this award in the name of Billy Strayhorn. Look for more up and coming rising stars like Kyle Takata in the future from Berklee !