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Mary Lou Williams: Composer, Arranger, Pianist
What to Know
Teaching Time
Five class periods
Grade Level
High School
  • Arts and Humanities
Historical Period
  • The Great Depression and World War II - 1929-1945
  • Post-WWII Pennsylvania - 1946-1974
Mary Lou Williams was one of the preeminent jazz composers, arrangers and pianists of the 20th century. She performed with many of the top musicians, influenced countless performers and achieved recognition in her own right. Despite these accomplishments, both she and her work were often slighted simply because of her gender. However, she persevered and is recognized today as a true equal in talent and accomplishment with the other jazz greats of the 20th century. The lesson will help students understand the development of Williams" music and also the place that Williams holds in American musical history.


1. Develop an understanding of the traditional jazz combo 2. Explain the development of Mary Lou Williams'; music, beginning with her work with Andy Kirk, continuing through her religious period, and ending with her final works. 3. Develop an understanding of the phenomenon of an African-American female artist living in the 20th century, using Williams' life and career in comparison to a later woman of the time period.

Standards Alignment

  • Arts and Humanities

    9.2.12. B. Relate works in the arts chronologically to historical events (Historical and Cultural Contexts).
    9.2.12. C. Relate works in the arts to varying styles and genre and to the periods in which they were created (Historical and Cultural Contexts).
    9.2.12. H. Identify, explain, and analyze the work of Pennsylvania Artists in visual arts.
    9.2.12. L. Identify, explain, and analyze common themes, forms, and techniques from works in the arts.
    9.3.12. A. Explain and apply the critical examination processes of works in the arts and humanities (Critical Response).
    9.3.12. C. Apply systems of classification for interpreting works in the arts and forming a critical response (Critical Response).

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