Boston Globe

I had the honor of facilitating a great panel discussion on Intersectionality featuring Chuck D from Public Enemy.  Check out this great photo and article in the Boston Globe.

Charlestown Patriot-Bridge

Carolyn's Melody For Murder Book Event was featured in the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge.  Check it out!



Press Release for Carolyn's Book Launch on January 30

King Bird Productions Press Contact: Kristine Walker, King Bird Productions Inspiring Stories of Music, Family and Black Womanhood For Immediate Release: They Raised Me Up A Black Single Mother and the Women Who Inspired Her by Carolyn Marie Wilkins Meet the Author and Book Launch Berklee College of Music Bookstore, Thursday, January 30th, 2014 at 7pm "An intriguing and beautifully rendered look at a group of women that is often overlooked.” -Diane Harriford, Professor of Sociology, Africana Studies and Women's Studies, Vassar College Kingbird Productions is pleased to announce the release of They Raised Me Up, the story of single mother Carolyn Wilkins’ battle to succeed in the man’s world of jam sessions and jazz clubs, and of the five musically gifted black women who inspired her. In sync with the release, Wilkins will be signing books and reading excerpts from They Raised Me Up at Boston’s Berklee College of Music Bookstore (1090 Boylston Street, Boston MA) on Thursday, January 30th, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Free and open to the public. Berklee College of Music Bookstore (617.747.2402) is wheelchair accessible. For additional information visit: !Wilkins alternates her own story with those of her ancestors’ struggles to realize their own dreams: Phillipa Schuyler, whose efforts to “pass” for white inspired Carolyn to embrace her own black identity; Marjory Jackson, the musician and single mother whose dark complexion and flamboyant lifestyle always raised eyebrows; Lilly Pruett, the stunningly beautiful daughter of an illiterate sharecropper; and Ruth Lipscomb, the country girl who realized her dream of becoming a concert pianist. !They Raised Me Up interweaves memoir with family history to create an entertaining, informative, and engrossing read that will appeal to anyone with an interest in African American or women’s history or to readers simply looking for an intriguing story about music and family. !About the Author: Carolyn Marie Wilkins is a Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. She has toured South America as a Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. State Department, performed on radio and television with her group SpiritJazz, and worked as a percussionist for the Pittsburgh and Singapore symphonies. She has released several critically acclaimed CDs of her original compositions and is the author of Tips for Singers: Performing, Auditioning, and Rehearsing (Berklee Press) and Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success (University of Missouri Press). !Carolyn Wilkins is available for interviews and appearances. For booking presentations, media appearances, interviews, and/or book signings contact Kristine Walker at King Bird Productions. ! For full bio and additional info: ! ! ! !

Boston Glove

Exploration of race blends memoir with family history By Steve Weinberg November 11, 2010 Carolyn Marie Wilkins is a professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and a performing jazz musician. One of her brothers, David, is a Harvard University Law School professor, and other family members have graduated from Harvard Law. But her ancestral roots exist far from Boston. When she began to research those roots, she found lots of surprises. Truly intelligent human beings understand that race is a social construct. Yet in our society, even after the election of an African-American president, skin color matters. Growing up among Chicago’s light-skinned African-American elite, Wilkins realized later that she possessed only a limited idea of what it meant to identify as black when she could have passed as white. Referring to her intellectual achievements, her fair skin, and her race, Wilkins adopted this rhyme for herself: “Light and bright perhaps, but definitely not white.’’ In her book — part memoir, part essay on race relations, part dual biography of her paternal great- grandfather and grandfather — Wilkins wrestles with her light-skinned identity, perhaps amplified by her marriage to a Caucasian male. In high school and at college during a black power era, she tried to rethink the meaning of race when challenged by blacks and whites alike. “Some of the other black students accused me of ‘talking like a white girl.’ After this incident, I carefully developed two separate vocabularies, one for dealing with white teachers and schoolmates and another that (hopefully) would enable me to be ‘down with the brothers.’ ’’ At college, Wilkins found herself ignored by black students “until they figured out that despite my light skin, I was indeed one of them.’’ Wilkins decided that calculating who she was meant looking beyond her parents — her mother, with a master’s degree in musicology; her father, a lawyer — to great-grandfather John Bird Wilkins and, more so, her grandfather J. Ernest Wilkins. Born into slavery, John Bird Wilkins became educated enough to shake up the Baptist church as a renegade minister, write and edit for a newspaper, invent original devices, and find time to practice bigamy as the patriarch of two families. One of his sons ended up as a national newsmaker and the primary target of Carolyn Wilkins’s intense curiosity. J. Ernest Wilkins, born in 1894 in Farmington, Mo., broke barriers to enter the University of Illinois, served in World War I, graduated from University of Chicago Law School, and eventually earned the attention of President Eisenhower, who appointed him assistant secretary of labor in Washington, D.C. No African-American had previously served that high in the Labor Department. As Carolyn Wilkins researched her grandfather’s Labor Department accomplishments, she became obsessed about learning why he was dismissed from the post while Eisenhower still served as president. Was racial prejudice to blame? Providing the answer in this review would constitute a spoiler. But J. Ernest Wilkins did not fade away. Appointed to the original federal Civil Rights Commission, he continued working on behalf of equity for all Americans until his death in 1959. Carolyn Wilkins’s interesting and inspirational quest, which began with a box of family scrapbooks, transformed her into an archive detective with a passion for genealogy. Maybe other readers will follow her path to learn more about who and why they are. Steve Weinberg can be reached through his website at © Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company. ‘Damn Near White’ explores writer’s family history and her th... 2 of 2 11/11/10 4:20 PM

1/16/11 3:22 PM BERKLEE | Berklee News | Carolyn Wilkins: Music, Mystery, and Memoir Page 1 of 1 By Ed Symkus Published: January 04, 2011 Professor Carolyn Wilkins uncovers family history in her second book. PHOTO BY PHIL FARNSWORTH Image 1 of 2 When Carolyn Wilkins is at Berklee, she's busy in the Ensemble Department—working with students, specializing in teaching small jazz bands, and often putting singers into the usual mix of piano, bass, drums, and guitar. She also teaches ear training, basic keyboard, and a seminar called Artistry, Creativity, and Inquiry. When she's not on campus, she's an in-demand pianist and singer—working freelance, playing at churches, performing with her group SpiritJazz. Somehow, in the middle of all of that, she found time to write her second book. Her first was music-related: Tips for Singers: Performing, Auditioning, and Rehearsing. Her newest, Damn Near White: An African American Family's Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success (University of Missouri Press), is about a personal search— covering her own family history, Washington politics, and a mystery. Her main subject is her grandfather: the late J. Ernest Wilkins, assistant secretary of labor in the Eisenhower administration, the first African American to hold such a high government position. He was a brilliant, proud, and private man who resigned from his position—or was forced to resign. Wilkins wanted to know what happened and why it was never discussed. Her research, done over three years while she continued to teach, perform, and live her everyday life as a wife and mom, introduced her to an intriguing cast of characters, including her great-grandfather John Bird Wilkins, who made his way from slavery to becoming an itinerant Baptist minister, changing his name and back story as he moved from city to city. The family's political legacy carries on in the current generation: Wilkins's brother David is a Harvard Law professor who clerked for pioneering Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. "I worked on it a long time," said Wilkins, over coffee in her North Cambridge kitchen. "Then I wrote it, first as a very straightforward narrative. But my husband [jazz bassist John Voigt] was going, 'Boring.'" Voigt was the Berklee library director for 30-plus years. So the self-described mystery "addict" made it a page-turner. . . with an answer at the end. "I enjoy reading mysteries because there's a trajectory," she said. "I realized that I could perhaps put this into a form that would make it more interesting for a person who is not a history buff, and would make it more personal." Though she's trained as a musician, not a writer, the skills transferred to her book, she said. "I was a little insecure in my writing, so I found myself reading it out loud to see if it had a rhythm. I found that when I was really on my game or the writing was going well, it would naturally have a rhythm that was comfortable." Asked how she actually managed to find the time to research and write the book, she again tied it to music. Wilkins started piano lessons at the age of 5, given by her musicologist mom. "One of the great things about music study is that it teaches you discipline," she said. "Since the age of 5, no matter what else is going on in my life, I've found time to practice. There's this illusion that musicians are somehow wild and crazy. They may be in some things, but we tend to be very disciplined because that's the only way you can get it done. Another thing that music teaches you is that Rome was not built in a day. Neither is a Beethoven sonata or a Charlie Parker solo learned in a day. You take a little bit, then the next day a little bit more, but you keep your focus on the big picture over time." Having now written one book about music and one about her family, Wilkins is gearing up to do one that will combine the two subjects, and might even fire up her composing skills. "The next book I write will be about the musicians in my family, and that book has already kind of triggered me to write some music," she said. "It's a little closer to me. Instead of dealing with lawyers and judges, now we're talking about singers and piano players, and I feel like, 'Oh, I could write a song about this.' " More News About: Africana Studies, Ensembles, Faculty, Voice Copyright © 2011 Berklee College of Music | | Carolyn Wilkins: Music, Mystery, and Memoir

Boston Globe

Centenary concert honors the late Sun Ra


The pianist and bandleader Sun Ra — who claimed Saturn as his planet of origin, referred to his ideas as “equations,” and led a long-running Arkestra that performed from the 1960s onward in ancient-Egypt-meets-outer-space regalia, sometimes with dancers or carnival performers on hand — was, to the general public, an odd, cryptic character.

To saxophonist Danny Ray Thompson, who joined the Arkestra in 1968, the same year that
Ra moved the band to Philadelphia — it had first formed in Chicago in the 1950s, and moved
to New York after that — Ra was something else altogether: a musical prodigy with 2/15/14 1:30 PM extraordinary breadth of knowledge, creative genius, and professional dedication.

Of course, Ra’s self-presentation and that of his group were not just for the sake of being outlandish. The outer-space theories, references to ancient Egypt, and wild outfits and staging were consistent with a musical approach that reveled in both the tradition — gospel, the blues — and in radical ideas of artistic and also political freedom.

Ra was as suspicious of movement leftism and professional activists as he was of the power structure, as his interviews and the hilarious and sharp 1974 cult film “Space Is the Place” make clear. His work instead inspired Afrofuturism, the artistic movement that employs science-fiction to imagine scenarios of black, and human, liberation.

“When you went to hear him in concert you suspected there were deep waters there, deep information,” says Clark, who saw the Arkestra around town in Philadelphia in the 1970s. “Lately we have this phrase, ‘respectability politics.’ He didn’t care about that. He blew it out of the water.”

One major Ra friend and supporter was Amiri Baraka, the African-American writer and intellectual who died last month. Baraka was present at Berklee in 2010 for another Ra-related event, when the archived papers of the late saxophonist Pat Patrick — a close Sun Ra collaborator dating back to the 1950s, and the father of Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick — were given to the college.

Baraka attended the first major Sun Ra centenary tribute, a performance by the Arkestra at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center last October, and was slated to attend the upcoming Berklee show as well.

It was he who arranged for the three Arkestra veterans — Thompson, Charles Davis, and Arkestra leader Marshall Allen (who turns 90 this year and is going strong) — to sit in with the faculty band.

“We weren’t going to refuse Amiri,” Thompson says.

In the Arkestra tradition, both Thompson and Berklee’s Clark say they and their colleagues intend to dress for the occasion — and in fact, Clark says, audience members are encouraged to do the same. Formal wear, Egyptian head-dresses, beads, science-fiction and robotic gear are all welcome, though of course optional.

“It’ll be just like a Sun Ra concert,” Thompson says. “It’s a special occasion.”

Siddhartha Mitter can be reached at


AFT Advocate

Hudson Valley Almanac


Carolyn Wilkins pays tribute to her musical mentors at Vassar

Posted by admin on April 18, 2014 in Books, Events, Music · 0 Comments

An Ulster Publishing publication

It’s good to have role models. And it’s good to pay tribute to them, once you’ve reached a level of mastery that reflects well on their contributions to you. In her memoir They Raised Me Up, Carolyn Wilkins does just that. With dignified prose, she honors the women in her family’s history, women who came before and who surmounted their own challenging life conditions to realize their own dreams.

A successful jazz musician and scholar, Wilkins is a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. She has toured South America as jazz ambassador for the US State Department, performed on radio and television with her group SpiritJazz and worked as a percussionist for the Pittsburgh and Singapore Symphonies. She has recorded several critically acclaimed CDs of original compositions and is the author of Tips for Singers: Performing, Auditioning and Rehearsing and Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success. Wilkins will read from her new book at the Vassar Alumnae House at 161 College Avenue in Poughkeepsie on Monday, April 21 at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Wilkins left an unhappy marriage in Tacoma in the 1980s and moved with her preschool-aged daughter to a working-class town outside of Boston, where she hoped to make her way in the music business as a jazz pianist. Surviving in a man’s world while raising a child on her own pushed her right up against the inequities that African American women face in every field. She had already



been rejected from a pursuit in classical music, because black females were not welcome in that realm at the time. In the jazz world of clubs and bars, she encountered sexual predation – enough to make her wonder if her choice had been a wise one. But there were bills to pay and babysitters to retain. So, in spite of almost-crippling stage fright, she forced herself to sit down with jazzmen and play.

Wilkins credits her ancestors and mentors with her success. As her role models, Wilkins counts five musically gifted women who struggled to achieve their passions at the turn of the 20th century: Philippa Schuyler, whose efforts to pass for white inspired Carolyn to embrace her own black identity despite her “damn near white” appearance; Marjory Jackson, the musician and single mother whose dark complexion and flamboyant lifestyle raised eyebrows among her contemporaries in the snobby, color-conscious world of the African American elite; Lilly Pruett, the daughter of an illiterate sharecropper whose stunning beauty might have been her only ticket out of the South; Ruth Lipscomb, the country girl who dreamed of becoming a concert pianist and realized her improbable ambition in 1941; and Wilkins’ grandmother, Alberta Sweeney, who survived personal tragedy by relying on the musical talent and spiritual stamina that she had acquired growing up in a Kansas mining town.

Her story interweaves memories of those first difficult years in Boston with tales of these five women. She references some of the historical situations in which they found themselves, like her grandmother and great-grandmother’s arrival in the Wild West town of Weir, Kansas, where Negroes were being enticed away from Birmingham and all over the South to work the coal mines.

Some of Wilkins’ mentors quietly persevered against the odds. Others were more outspoken, like a great-aunt who worked to register black voters in the 1940s and put African American candidates in office. Some credit her efforts, along with a strong caucus of churchgoing women, for putting Harry Truman in the White House in 1948.

Reflecting the persistent strength of the women themselves, and more famous icons of civil rights too, Wilkins’ memoir presents slices of African American and women’s history with dignity and integrity. They Raised Me Up is an entertaining, informative and engrossing read.

Carolyn Wilkins reads They Raised Me Up, Vassar Alumnae House, 161 College Avenue, Poughkeepsie, Mon., April 21, 5 p.m., free, open to the public, refreshments served. For information, call (845) 437-5870 and to RSVP, e-mail