History Lecture Series: Jazz, Civil Rights, and Social Justice – Dr. Gil Harel, Naugatuck Valley Community College


at the Wilton Library

During this program, Gil Harel, PhD, Brandeis University, will discuss the ways in which jazz as a medium was intertwined with the civil rights movement and the unrelenting drive towards social justice.

Throughout its storied history, jazz has been a catalyst for social change. Calling attention to the plight of blacks in the south, Billie Holiday’s gut-wrenching 1939 ballad “Strange Fruit” described the horrors of lynching during the Jim Crow era. Charles Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus” would cast a spotlight on the malfeasance of Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus and his defiance of federal orders for desegregation. John Coltrane, who grew up in the bebop era and would go on to pioneer new genres including modal jazz and free jazz, would add his voice to the chorus of those campaigning for social change. His powerful composition, “Alabama” – written in response to a heinous KKK bombing – would help galvanize a generation to action.

Gil Harel is a musicologist and music theorist whose interests include styles ranging from the western classical repertoire to jazz. Previously, he has served on the faculty at CUNY Baruch College (where he was awarded the prestigious “Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching”) as well as at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China. Currently he teaches at Naugatuck Valley Community College where he was presented with the “Merit Award for Exemplary Service to the College.” At NVCC, Dr. Harel conducts the college chorale, a cappella ensemble, teaches music history and theory, and serves as musical director of theater productions. Outside of teaching, he enjoys staying active as a pianist and vocalist. A regular jazz performer, he is a devoted interpreter of the style of McCoy Tyner.

The moderator is Max Gabrielson.

Register for this lecture here.

In the thirteenth year of the collaboration between Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society, the scholarly lecture series will focus on the theme, “Jazzed Up: The History of Jazz in America.” The series locations are Wilton Library (137 Old Ridgefield Road, Wilton) and the Wilton Historical Society (224 Danbury Road, Wilton).

The series is sponsored by the Charles Schwab Corporation. The media sponsor is The Wilton Bulletin.  Informal receptions follow each talk. There is no charge, but donations are always welcomed. Registration is required for each lecture individually.