Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul

Liturgical. (People of God). Aug. 2021. 152p. ISBN 9780814664018. pap. $16.95. REL
Though Mary Lou Williams (1910–81) was a legend of jazz piano, she has received surprisingly little attention in the histories of the genre. Jazz pianist, composer, and liturgical musician Witkowski hopes to rectify this with her well-crafted work, part of a series of short inspirational biographies of 20th- and 21st-century Catholics. Williams’s lack of recognition resulted in part because of her gender, but also because she was so unclassifiable, argues the author. Williams started out playing boogie woogie and swing, moved to bop in the 1940s, and, by the end of a professional life spanning seven decades, had even made forays into free jazz. Witkowski explains how two lights guided Williams through life: her music and her faith. At 47, she converted to Catholicism; the rest of her life was a testament to belief. The author recounts Williams’s search for a spiritual home as well as her close friendship with Dorothy Day.
VERDICT Witkowski does an admirable job covering an extraordinary life. Her book will appeal first to people of faith, but jazz lovers will find it valuable too.
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