The Kennedy Center

Geri Allen


On May 22, 2010, Geri Allen, internationally known jazz pianist, composer, and arranger, was awarded the Kennedy Center's 2010 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award, for her lifetime of service to jazz.

Since 1982, Ms. Allen has recorded, performed, or collaborated with artists as diverse as Ravi Coltrane, Dianne Reeves, Liz Wright, and Simone, in a celebration of the life and music of Nina Simone, Donald Walden, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Bill Cosby, Mal Waldron, Sir Simon Rattle, Lee Konitz, Vernon Reid, Jackie Hillsman and Peter Bernard, JoAnne Akalaitis, Clark Terry, George Shirley, Carrie Mae Weems, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, Carmen Lundy, Lester Bowie's From the Root To The Source, Kevin Maynor, Meshell Ndegeocello, Howard University's Afro Blue, Dewey Redman, Jimmy Cobb, Sandra Turner-Barnes, Marcus Belgrave, Betty Carter, Marian McPartland, Roy Brooks, Charlie Haden and Paul Motion, Terri Lynn Carrington, Hal Wilner, Mino Cinelu, Dr. Billy Taylor, Joan Rivers, and Mary Wilson and the Supremes.

She has released a number of recordings under her own name. These include: The Nurturer, Eyes in the Back of Your Head, Maroons, Homegrown, The Printmakers, Twenty One, The Gathering, The Life of a Song, Timeless Portraits and Dreams, and Timeline, Live. Geri Allen is a Motema artist, and her Refractions: Flying Toward the Sound is a work for solo piano which she composed during the period of her Guggenheim Fellowship. Her most recent recording, Grand River Crossings: Motown and Motor City Inspirations, was released on September 10, 2013 and is a highly personal reflection on an influential time and place in America-a cultural crossroads-with Motown at the center of it all.

Ms. Allen was recently invited by Ms. Jessye Norman to participate in Honor, A Celebration Of the Legacy Of African Music, held at Carnegie Hall spring 2008. She has received the key to the city of Cambridge during Geri Allen Week at Harvard University, and the key to the city of Cleveland. Howard University has honored her with its Benny Golson Award, while Spelman College bestowed its African Classical Music Award on her in 2007. She was the first  artist to receive the Lady Of Soul Award in Jazz, and was also the youngest person-and the first woman-to receive the Danish Jazzpar Prize. Ms. Allen is a 2008-2009 Guggenheim Fellow for Musical Composition.

She is a Detroit native and a graduate of Cass Technical High School, Detroit's magnet school for music. She is also a graduate of Howard University where she later served as Assistant Professor of Music. During that period, Howard honored her with both its Distinguished Alumni and Distinguished Professor Awards. She also holds a master's degree in ethnomusicology from The University of Pittsburgh, where she studied with Dr. Nathan Davis, Dr. Kwabena Nketia, John Blacking, and Dr. Bell Yung. Ms. Allen is Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at University of Michigan's School of Music, Theater, and Dance. Before holding this position, she taught at The New England Conservatory of Music and The New School in New York City.

In addition to her own performances and the recordings under her own name, Ms. Allen has participated in a number of notable collaborations. These include playing on the Classic  Ellington, and Americana CDs,  Sir Simon Rattle, conductor;  Miles: Cool and Collected, a CD anthology of Miles Davis' work from 1956 to 1984; tenure in the Ornette Coleman Quartet from 1991 to 1995, culminating in the celebrated Sound Museum CD; and The Mary Lou Williams Collective of which she is the musical director. The Collective has issued Zodiac Suite: Revisited on Mary Records. Allen played the role of Mary Lou Williams in Robert Altman's film Kansas City, and she contributed the original musical score to the filmed documentary Beah: A Black Woman Speaks directed by Lisa Gay Hamilton, which won a Peabody Award. Most recently, Ms. Allen has collaborated with Trio 3 whose members include Oliver Lake, Andrew Cyrille, and Reggie Workman. A CD by these four musicians was released on Intakt Records. It is called At This Time.

Ms. Allen's work as a composer has been honored by SESAC. Her ability has won her commissions from Jazz at Lincoln Center, Music Theatre Group, American Music Theatre Festival, Stanford University, and, most recently, from The Walt Whitman Arts Center and Meet the Composer who commissioned For the Healing of the Nations, a sacred jazz work, composed in tribute to the victims and survivors of the 9/11 tragedy. Currently, Ms. Allen has been commissioned to compose an opera for Trilogy: An Opera Company. She continues to concertize all over the world.

(October 2013)
L to R:  Kevin Struthers, Director of Jazz Programming; Terri Lyne Carrington,