Mary Lou Williams (born Mary Elfrieda Scruggs; May 8, 1910 – May 28, 1981) was an American jazz pianist, arranger, and composer. She wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements and recorded more than one hundred records (in 78, 45, and LP versions). Williams wrote and arranged for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and she was friend, mentor, and teacher to Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, and Dizzy Gillespie.
In 1922, at the age of 12, she went on the Orpheum Circuit of theaters. During the following year she played with Duke Ellington and his early small band, the Washingtonians. One morning at three o’clock, she was playing with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers at Harlem’s Rhythm Club. Louis Armstrong entered the room and paused to listen to her. Williams shyly told what happened: “Louis picked me up and kissed me.
In 1942, Williams left the Twelve Clouds of Joy, returning to Pittsburgh. She was joined there by her bandmate Harold “Shorty” Baker, with whom she formed a six-piece ensemble that included Art Blakey on drums. After getting engaged in Cleveland, Baker left to join Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Williams joined the band in New York City, and they traveled to Baltimore to be married. She traveled with Ellington and helped arrange several tunes for him, including “Trumpet No End” (1946), her version of “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin.
Mary Lou Williams was an African American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger who wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements and recorded over one hundred records. Williams was born as Mary Elfireda Scruggs on May 8, 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia, but grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
After her hiatus, her first piece was a Mass that she wrote and performed named Black Christ of the Andes (1963). Two short works, Anima Christi and Praise the Lord, were also released during this time. Williams made great efforts to perform his work in collaboration with the Youth Choir, including the “Mass of Mary Lou” held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in April 1975. The jazz musician played at the church for the first time. She established a charitable organization and opened thrift stores in Harlem, directing the proceeds, along with ten percent of her own earnings, to musicians in need. As a 1964 Time article explained, “Mary Lou thinks of herself as a soul musician — a way of saying that she never strays far from melody and the blues, but deals sparingly in gospel harmony and rhythm. “I pray with my fingers when I play,” she says. I achieve a good “soul sound” by touching people’s souls.
In the 1980 novel A Confederacy of Dunces, Ignatius Reilly contemplates praying to Martin for aid in bringing social justice to the black workers at the New Orleans factory where he works. And in music, the first track of jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams’s album Black Christ of the Andes is titled “St. Martin De Porres”.
There are several Spanish and Mexican works regarding his life in cinema and television, starring Cuban actor Rene Muñoz, most of them referring to his mixed race, his miracles and his life of humility. The best known movies are Fray Escoba (Friar Broom) (1963) and Un mulato llamado Martin (A mulatto called Martin) (1975).