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King’s Influence on Music and the Arts Topic of Jan. 28 Event at U.Va.

Along with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s towering influence on civil rights and politics, theology and ethics, his vision endures in the worlds of music and literature.

King’s effect on the arts will be the focus of a daylong symposium, “Creative Maladjustment: Martin Luther King and the Poetics and Politics of Freedom,” to be held Jan. 28 in the auditorium of the Harrison Institute and Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library as part of the University of Virginia’s Community MLK Celebration.  

The event, free and open to the public, will bring together a group of multidisciplinary artists and scholars, including Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, for critical reflection on King’s artistry and politics through several panel discussions and a performance. The schedule goes from 10:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Symposium organizer Claudrena Harold, a history professor in the College of Arts & Sciences, noted that 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of three iconic texts in King’s body of work: his “I Have a Dream” speech, “Eulogy to the Martyred Children” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  

“The point here is to not simply meditate on King’s political legacy, but to consider how his political work and artistic vision can move us toward the creation of a truly beloved community,” she said.  

Along with Iyer, participants include U.Va. professors John Mason, Marlon Ross, Scott Deveaux and James Loeffler; recent U.Va. graduates Allie Griffin and Brenton Mixon; and Brown University  professors Greg Tate and Corey D.B. Walker.

“Vijay will discuss the connections between music and freedom and the ways in which the artistic vision of King lives in many contemporary artists,” Harold said. “I am glad to say that we will also get the chance to hear Vijay play.”

At the 5 p.m. final event of the symposium, he will back the performance of Tate’s play, “The OmniChillun Lounge Presents TRC vs. AACM*? (*that revolutionary chicken versus the association for the advancement of creative maladjustment),” with Kim Hill (formerly of the Black Eyed Peas) and soul singer Meah Pace. The play centers around the ideas of King and Malcolm X.

Iyer, who in 2012 won Downbeat’s Jazz Artist of the Year, has garnered critical praise for his brilliant fusion of jazz, classical music, electronic and hip-hop, working with many musicians from these genres. He is a faculty member at Manhattan School of Music, New York University, The New School and the School for Improvisational Music. His writings appear in Music Perception, Current Musicology, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Critical Studies in Improvisation, Journal of the Society for American Music and JazzTimes.

Wondering about the phrase “creative maladjustment”? It comes from a 1954 sermon, in which King wrote: “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a non-conforming minority.”

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