Smithsonian Collections

Mary Lou Williams

Image for Mary Lou Williams
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Exhibition Label
Mary Lou Williams began playing the piano at an early age, and by the time she reached her teens, she was performing on the road. Although many jazz musicians disliked working with female musicians, Williams persevered. As part of the Clouds of Joy Orchestra in the 1930s, she was billed as "The Lady Who Swings the Band," and she supplied arrangements to such top musicians as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. An early convert to the bebop revolution of the 1940s, Williams also composed symphonic jazz. She retired briefly from her music career in the 1950s, converting to Catholicism and using profits from her record company to support her work helping troubled musicians. Religious themes inspired much of her later work, including the "Music for Peace" mass, which Alvin Ailey choreographed as "Mary Lou's Mass" in 1971.
Artist
Gjon Mili, 28 Nov 1904 - 14 Feb 1984
Sitter
Mary Lou Williams, 8 May 1910 - 28 May 1981
Date
1943
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Medium
Gelatin silver print
Dimensions
Image/Sheet: 33.9 x 26.7 cm (13 3/8 x 10 1/2")
Mat: 71.1 x 55.9 cm (28 x 22")
Type
Photograph
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Object number
NPG.95.382
Topic
Music\Musical instrument\Piano
Home Furnishings\Furniture\Seating\Chair
Costume\Jewelry\Brooch
Costume\Dress Accessory\Flower
Equipment\Sound Devices\Microphone
Interior\Nightclub
Music\Musical instrument\Bass
Mary Lou Williams: Female
Mary Lou Williams: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician
Mary Lou Williams: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Composer
Mary Lou Williams: Society and Social Change\Reformer\Humanitarian
Mary Lou Williams: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Pianist
Mary Lou Williams: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Arranger
Portrait
Place
United States\New York\Kings\New York
Restrictions & Rights
© Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images