Sound & Story: 25 Years at the American Jazz Museum

Amid much pomp and circumstance, the American Jazz Museum opened its doors on September 5, 1997. Originally named the Kansas City Jazz Museum, KCMO Mayor Emanuel Cleaver II, the museum’s Executive Director Dr. Rowena Stewart, and event designer and producer Marcie Cecil were charged with the monumental task of forming a noteworthy three-day celebration. The inaugural event featured the best of area and national talent including Billy Dee Williams, George Duke, his niece Dianne Reeves, Harry Belafonte, and Al Jarreau. Megastars including Tony Bennett, Claude “Fiddler” Williams, and Pat Metheny also took to the Gem Theater stage.

18th Street was blanketed in a sea of red carpet, and the elaborate celebration lasted three days. The Friday night opening gala was a ticketed event in the Gem Theater, but a massive stage erected on 18th Street boasted a large screen where the ceremony was presented live, and free, to the entire community. The days following the gala were filled with seminar-style talks featuring local talent, organized by Pam and Sam Johnson. Thrilled audience members were able to hear their local favorites all weekend long.

Kansas City and All That’s Jazz served, and still serves, as the title for the museum’s permanent exhibition, which celebrates jazz through the life and legacy of jazz greats Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington. The Museum’s Changing Gallery featured Beyond Category: The Musical Genius of Duke Ellington, a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) exhibit.

The Museums at 18th & Vine celebrated their grand opening on September 5, 1997 in the area where baseball, jazz, and good times reigned as part of Kansas City’s cultural life. The City of Kansas City, Missouri led a $24 million project to pay tribute to the historical development of jazz and baseball. With the opening of the museums, Kansas Citians and visitors have the opportunity to get a first-hand look at some of the greatest legends of jazz and baseball.

On September 15, the American Jazz Museum will open Sound & Story: 25 Years at the American Jazz Museum. This commemorative anniversary exhibit chronicles the museum’s rich history and key figures who kept the vision and mission alive since 1997. The exhibit also features rarely-before seen artifacts from the museum’s collection. Please join us this year by visiting the exhibit, on display from September 15, 2022 – April 30, 2023.

For nearly 25 years, the American Jazz Museum has opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of visitors, championing the impact that jazz has on our everyday lives and the enduring possibility to learn more about ourselves and each other through each artifact, program, and performance. It wouldn’t have been possible without you, and with your continued support, we will keep expanding the legacy of jazz and sharing this great honor with even more generations to come. If you would like to support the museum during this milestone anniversary year, please text LEGACY25 to 44-321 or contact Lisa Alpert at lalpert@kcjazz.org.

–Lisa Alpert

CategoriesArts Consortium

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