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Thought Leader and Global Citizen Wynton Marsalis

With Wynton Marsalis, world-renowned trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and a leading advocate of American culture.

New York, N.Y. I was thrilled to be with Wynton Marsalis [Luce Index™ Score: 95] at the French Embassy in New York City the night in 2009 he received France’s highest distinction, the insignia Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, an honor that was first awarded by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Marsalis has been called the “Pied Piper” of Jazz and the “Doctor of Swing”

Since his recording debut in 1982, he has released 127 jazz, classical and alternative recordings and won many awards. From the very beginning of his career, education has been vital to his mission. He has taught and mentored a voluminous number of musicians who have gone on to play, teach and advocate in their own brilliant ways. Through these relationships Marsalis has ensured that the legacy of jazz music will continue to propagate for generations to come.

Over the past four decades, Marsalis has rekindled and animated widespread international interest in jazz through performances, educational activities, books, curricula, and relentless advocacy on public platforms. Today, Marsalis continues the renaissance that he sparked in the early 1980s, attracting new generations of young talent to jazz and illuminating the mythic meanings of jazz fundamentals.

Wynton Marsalis’ core beliefs are based on jazz fundamentals: freedom and individual creativity (improvisation), collective action and good manners (swing), as well as acceptance, gratitude and resilience (the blues). Marsalis believes that music has the power to elevate our quality of life and lead us to both higher and lower levels of consciousness. He maintains that music can elevate the quality of human engagement for individuals, social networks and cultural institutions throughout the world.

A Musical Upbringing

Wynton was born in New Orleans in 1961, to jazz pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis Jr. and Dolores Marsalis. He developed an avid desire to participate in the cultural community that surrounded him. He was curious about his father and his musician friends that would always come by the family home for a visit, or to shed tunes. Hearing how passionately Ellis and his musician friends talked about the Civil Rights Act, and key political figures of the time such as Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lyndon B. Johnson led Wynton to first start to understand the intrinsic link between music and the human experience that it represents.

Early Years in New York

After receiving his diploma from Benjamin D. Franklin High School in New Orleans, Marsalis left home to continue studying classical music at The Juilliard School in New York City. He enrolled in the fall of 1979.

While a student at Juilliard, Marsalis quickly began to take note of the flourishing jazz scene that was transpiring in New York. He soon started playing jazz gigs around the city; it didn’t take long for the grapevine to begin to buzz as people wondered who this young cat from New Orleans was.

Columbia Records signed Marsalis to his first recording contract in 1980— just a year after he had left home.

Marsalis’ list of influences would expand in the years to follow as he performed with Sarah VaughanDizzy Gillespie, his beloved mentor Harry “Sweets” EdisonClark TerryJohn LewisSonny RollinsRon CarterHerbie HancockTony Williams and countless other jazz legends. Playing with these heavy hitters impacted him greatly, and would inspire Marsalis to pave his own unique legacy in jazz music.

Since his boyhood encounter with the young man on the New Orleans streetcar, Marsalis has maintained his love of classical music. His deep interest in the compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others has driven him to pursue classical music as well as jazz throughout his career.

Television, Radio & Literary

Throughout his career, Marsalis has taken on an inexhaustible advocatory role for jazz music. He has often been referred to as The Conscience of Jazz. Through the mediums of television, radio, journalism and literature, he has communicated his message to the world about the imperative force of jazz to elevate our livelihood and culture.

Marsalis had two documentaries made on his music and perspective early in his career: Catching a Snake in 1985 and Playing Through the Changes in 1992. Though many years have passed since these two pieces aired, Marsalis’ overall message about jazz music and its importance as a classic American art form have remained consistent to date.

In the fall of 1995, Wynton launched two major broadcast events. That October on PBS, he premiered Marsalis on Music, an educational television series on jazz and classical music which he wrote and hosted. Writers distinguished Marsalis on Musicwith comparisons to Leonard Bernstein’s celebrated Young People’s Concerts of the 1950s and 60s. That same month, NPR aired the first of Marsalis’ 26-week series entitled Making the Music. These entertaining and insightful radio shows were the first full exposition of jazz music in American broadcast history. Wynton’s radio and television series’ were awarded the most prestigious distinction in broadcast journalism, the George Foster Peabody AwardThe Spirit of New Orleans, Marsalis’ poetic tribute to the New Orleans Saints’ first Super Bowl victory (Super Bowl XLIV) has also received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Feature (2011).

Marsalis has been interviewed for countless documentaries and educational specials on jazz music, as well as classical. One of his most notable moments in this vein was his collaboration with Ken Burns in 2001 on his documentary miniseries Jazz. Other examples include his contributions to A World Without Beethoven? (2020), TCM’s Jazz in Film series (2020), and his interviews with LIFE on Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong (2015). Marsalis is consistently called upon to speak about the legacies of other jazz legends. He has given interviews on Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and so many others.

Select Awards and Accolades

Marsalis’ creativity has been celebrated throughout the world. He has won the Netherlands’ Edison Award and the Grand Prix Du Disque of France. The Mayor of Vitoria, Spain, awarded him with the city’s Gold Medal – its most coveted distinction.

In 2001, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan proclaimed Wynton Marsalis an international ambassador of goodwill for the Unites States by appointing him a UN Messenger of Peace. Then, in November 2005, Wynton Marsalis was bestowed The National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States Government. Marsalis was honored with The National Humanities Medal by President Barak Obama in 2015, in recognition of his work to deepen the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broaden American citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages and philosophy.

In the five decades preceding Marsalis’ 1997 Pulitzer Prize win for Blood on the Fields, the Pulitzer Prize jury had refused to recognize jazz musicians and their improvisational music, reserving the distinction solely for classical composers. In the years following Marsalis’ award, the Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded posthumously to Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

TIME magazine selected Wynton as one of America’s most promising leaders under age 40 in 1995; in 1996, TIME celebrated Marsalis again as one of America’s 25 most influential people. In 2011, the Marsalis family, including Wynton, became the first to receive a group NEA Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment of the Arts. Honorary degrees have been conferred upon Marsalis by 41 of America’s leading academic institutions including Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Princeton, Yale and Tulane University in his hometown of New Orleans.

In the winter of 2021, Marsalis was welcomed into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The same year, he was winner of the Dr. Maria Montessori Ambassador Award given by the American Montessori Society, Brooklyn for Peace’s PathMakers to Peace Award, the winner of the American Prairie Reserve’s Ken Burns American Heritage Prize and was presented the Key to the City of New York by Bill DeBlasio. In 2022, Marsalis was presented with SFJAZZ’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Marsalis’ album Black Codes (From the Underground) was inducted into the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in the spring of 2023.

Thought Leader and Global Citizen Wynton Marsalis (May 7, 2024)

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© 2024 The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness – Towards Global Citizenship is published by The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation Supporting & Educating Young Global Leaders is affiliated with Orphans International Worldwide, Raising Global Citizens. If supporting youth is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.

Jim Luce
Jim Luce
Raising, Supporting & Educating Young Global Leaders through Orphans International Worldwide (, the J. Luce Foundation (, and The Stewardship Report ( Jim is also founder and president of the New York Global Leaders Lions Club.


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