Arthur C. Dawkins, Ph.D.
In the spring of 2005, Dr. Arthur C. Dawkins retired from Howard University as a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies. At the time of his retirement, Dr. Dawkins had directed Howard University Jazz Studies for 30 years.
While Dr. Donald Byrd is famously credited with establishing Jazz Studies at Howard, it was under Dr. Dawkins’ leadership that Howard University Jazz Studies achieved academic credibility and emerged as an incubator for world-class practitioners of the art form. In the words of Professor Fred Irby, III, a colleague of Dr. Dawkins throughout his Howard tenure, “…he brought two very important qualities to the program at Howard. Dawkins brought a very high level of musicianship and he was a visionary. Also, very importantly, he was a mentor to students and faculty.”
In 1978, Noble Jolley became the first graduate of Howard University to earn a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, solidifying the program’s status as a degree-granting program. In 1983, Howard University became the first HBCU to offer a Masters Degree in Jazz Studies. In 1987, under the auspices of the State Department, Dr. Dawkins toured several African countries, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Burkina Faso, and Senegal, leading an ensemble of Howard students. He also coordinated the Music Business Program, among the first such programs in the country. With each successive landmark achievement, Dr. Dawkins was moving Jazz more fully into the embrace of Howard University’s academic canon, both as a performing arts discipline and a professional pursuit.
Over three decades, the program has produced an impressive number of music educators, scholars and performers: Geri Allen , Mark Batson , Stephen Baxter , Michael Bearden , Ravi Best , Aaron Broadus, Gorden Campbell , Paul Carr , Chris Dave, Carroll Vaughn Dashiell, Jr., Winard Harper , Egheosa Passion Igbinoba ,Natalie Denise Jackson aka Kudisan Kai , Marcus Johnson , Dr. Sais Kamalidiin , William Knowles, Jonathan Laine , Lorne Lee , Kevin Levi , Wayne Lindsey, Keith Kilgo , William “Bill” Murray, Greg Osby, Antonio Parker , Land Richards , Wallace Roney , Chris Royal , Gregory Royal , Warren Shadd , Clarence Seay , Dr. William Smith , Gary Thomas , Jay A. Thompson , Kevin Toney , Mario Thomas , Vinney Valentino , Aaron Walker , Tim Warfield , Kebbi Williams and Davey Yarborough.
Today Howard University Jazz Studies boasts three highly acclaimed, award-winning performance groups: the Howard University Jazz Ensemble (HUJE), Afro Blue, an acapella vocal ensemble and the Howard University Jazztet.
While the education and mentorship of future educators, scholars and performers was at the core of Dr. Dawkins’ vision for Jazz at Howard, he initiated other programs which further showcased Jazz. The Howard University Jazz Repertory Orchestra (HUJRO), directed by Dr. Reppard Stone, was the first ensemble of its type to mine the programmatic potential of modern jazz. The HUJRO’s presentations of the repertoires of Billy Eckstine, Thelonious Monk and Oliver Nelson were groundbreaking in that regard.
Dr. Dawkins was the recipient of numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and other institutions to support the HUJRO and a related project, the Howard University Jazz Oral History Project (HUJOHP). Once again, Dr. Dawkins was ahead of the curve in designing and implementing the HUJOHP. By choosing to focus on the masters of Modern Jazz, at a time when that segment of the professional jazz community was largely untapped, he pushed the envelop of Jazz Oral History. That body of work was recently deposited at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and is being made available to researchers and scholars.
Dr. Dawkins was born on October 15, 1935 in Lexington, North Carolina. His family moved to Alexandria, VA in 1940, where his father came to work as a laborer in the construction of the Pentagon. He attended the Alexandria public schools and began playing woodwinds at age twelve. His first major influence was E. L. Patterson, his elementary and high school band instructor. It was Patterson who encouraged Dawkins to attend Virginia State College (Virginia State University) where he earned his Bachelors in Music Education.
Dr. Dawkins spent the early years of his career teaching instrumental music. After thirteen years in the classroom, he became an administrator in the same Alexandria community that nurtured him. There was a difference however. Alexandria was coming to grips with the integration of its public schools. As one of the Vice Principals of T.C. Williams High School, the integration of which was memorialized in the feature film, Remember the Titans, Dr. Dawkins was at the center of this historic moment. Coincident with all of this, Dawkins managed to earn his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in educational psychology from the Catholic University of America, with the objective of pursuing a career as a psychologist. Music, however, continued to beckon.
In the 1960s, Dawkins would emulate his early influences, performing in the Howard Theatre house band and joining the inner circle of Washington modern jazz stylists working the local club scene. During this period, he worked with Bobby Felder, one of the popular bandleaders in the area. Ultimately Felder would convince Dawkins to leave the Alexandria Public Schools and join the faculty at Federal City College (University of the District of Columbia).
Those experiences would form the predicate for a career as one of the area’s most respected and versatile free-lance musicians and contractors. Dawkins became known as a proficient woodwind doubler and a flautist extraordinaire, equally at home in the National Symphony Orchestra as he is in the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
Dr. Dawkins impact on “the Hill,” within the ivory towers of Howard University, not withstanding, his influence upon the professional prospects of working musicians in the Washington area is not to be minimized. Along with Calvin Jones, he was among of the first African-American musicians to regularly perform in the pit orchestras of the major theatrical venues of post-segregationist Washington.
As such, Dr. Dawkins was an important example and a viable conduit for those seeking similar opportunity. For more than twenty-five years, Dawkins served as the musical contractor for the Arena Stage, considered among the nation’s premier regional theaters. As contractor he employed hundreds of musicians in a variety of settings including pit orchestras, sound recordings, television, and concerts.
A nationally recognized clinician, Dr. Dawkins presents workshops, seminars and adjudicates jazz festivals throughout the country. He has been active in both the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) and the Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Under the auspices of IAJE, Dawkins has performed and taught regularly at the Clark Terry/Rich Matteson Jazz Camps. He served the IAJE in several capacities, Resource Team Member, Teacher Training Institute Faculty, and as Director of the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellows at IAJE Conferences and the Monterey Jazz Festival. In 2003, he was elected Vice President of IAJE.
He has published several articles and a book chapter. Among his awards are Outstanding Faculty Award in the College of Fine Arts and a Virginia State University Alumni Certificate of Merit. He and his wife, Mary, have two daughters, Iris and Porsha.
As an educator and performer, Dr. Dawkins has had a long, fruitful and quietly brilliant career. From modest beginnings, he worked his way to the top of his profession. Along the way, he successfully negotiated the transition from segregation to integration, and pointed out the way for others to follow. He will be remembered for touching individuals more than advocating before groups because that is the way that he worked—one individual, one student at a time, and without ever drawing attention to himself.
- W.A. Brower