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Webster Lewis

  • Afro-American Music

Webster Lewis (1943–2002) did his undergraduate studies at Morgan State College in Baltimore, where he helped found the Iota Phi Theta social service fraternity, now with two hundred chapters nationwide. He then completed a master’s degree in social psychology at Boston College, and in 1970 an M.M. in arranging at NEC, where his teachers included Jaki Byard, Victor Rosenbaum, and George Russell. From 1972 to 1978 he was Director of Community Services and a member of the Afro-American Music faculty at NEC. Lewis’s greatest impact as a professional musician was felt within the commercial music industry, where he was a conductor, writer, and arranger on tours and in recordings, film (Beat Street), and television (“Say Brother” at WGBH). Artists who benefited from his skills include the Jacksons, Barry White, Tom Jones, Gladys Knight, and Gwen McCrae. He also released six albums of his own, which have taken on new life due to their popularity with DJs and samplers. Lewis championed the cause of performing African American pop music in venues usually associated with classical music; at NEC, “Marvin Gaye Day” (1976) was one of his projects. In 1980, two years after leaving NEC to join a Herbie Hancock tour, he brought his Post Pop Space Rock Bebop Gospel Tabernacle Chorus and Orchestra to Jordan Hall in a benefit performance for NEC.

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