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The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture is critically concerned with issues of race and the impact of social difference at the individual, interpersonal and institutional levels. Through lectures, performances, exhibits, and informal gatherings, the Mary Lou Williams Center strives to foster an appreciation for and increase knowledge of the peoples, histories, and cultures of the African diaspora and its many contributions to the world. The Mary Lou Williams Center also provides programs and services that contribute to the successful academic and personal development of not only Black students, but all students at Duke University. Ultimately, the Mary Lou Williams Center seeks to be a hub of information, activity, and community for our constituency at Duke University. We welcome anyone who wants to engage with and be empowered by a greater understanding of the Black experience, to consider the Mary Lou Williams Center as a home away from home.


Established in 1983, the Duke University Center for Black Culture was named in honor of the great artist—Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). A renowned pianist, composer, teacher and humanitarian, Mary Lou Williams performed with numerous jazz legends and was among the first jazz artists to perform at Carnegie Hall and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Williams taught at Duke University as an Artist-in-Residence from 1977 until her death. She is remembered by artists such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell as one whose musical and spiritual contributions were singular and profound.