Music promoter, biochemist, philanthropist
Joyce Wein and her husband and business partner, jazz impresario George Wein, were a major force in the acceptance of jazz as a serious art form. Together they organized and promoted music festivals in the United States and abroad. They were also noted collectors of African American art. Joyce Wein was a founder of the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women, an organization devoted to empowering women of color and helping disadvantaged youth. It spawned similar coalitions across the country. Wein's promotion of music and art, and her concern for others will be long remembered.
Married George Wein
Joyce Wein was born Joyce Alexander on October 21, 1928, in Boston, Massachusetts, the sixth of Columbia and Hayes Alexander's seven children. Two of Joyce Alexander's mother's 12 siblings had been born into slavery, so the family had a deep understanding of the racial divide in the United States. From an early age, Joyce Wein made the most of her opportunities, graduating from Boston's Girls Latin School to enter Simmons College in Boston at age 15. Four years later, she graduated with a chemistry degree in 1948 and pursued a career as a biochemist, first at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and later at Columbia University Medical School in New York City.
Her academic accomplishments did not deter her from enjoying herself. Wein grew up listening to the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Art Tatum, among others. As an adult she would come to know many of these musicians well. It was her love of music that first brought her in contact with her future husband. Joyce Alexander first met George Wein, backstage at the Boston Opera House after a 1947 concert featuring Sidney Bechet, the New Orleans clarinetist, and pianist James P. Johnson. At the time, she was the jazz columnist for the Simmons student newspaper, and George Wein, a jazz pianist and premed student, was working his way through Boston University as the leader of a nightclub band. George Wein remembered their meeting to Tom Long of the Boston Globe in 2005, saying "I offered her a ride home, but she wouldn't take it." Soon George Wein and Joyce Alexander were helping to integrate Boston jazz clubs.
Interracial dating was unusual in the 1940s, and both families objected. However Joyce Alexander's mother was more disturbed by the young man's jazz aspirations than by the fact that he was white. George Wein's father told him: "Live together, but don't get married." In his memoir GeorgeWein recalled Joyce saying when she was 27, "I'll give you until I'm 30."
During the 1950s George Wein operated the legendary Boston jazz club Storyville. In 1954 he founded the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, the world's first annual jazz event. The Weins were secretly married in a small town in New York in 1959. George Wein told Long: "We could have been put in jail in 25 states when we got married, but in Boston we never had a problem." However Wein's father vowed to never speak to his son again and didn't for about seven months.
Founded the Newport Folk Festival
By the time of their marriage the Newport Jazz Festival had brought George Wein fame and large debts. Joyce abandoned her career as a biochemist and became George's business partner. In 1962 they founded Festival Productions with George as chief executive officer and Joyce Wein as vice president, a position she held until the late 1990s. Joyce Wein remained involved with company operations until her death in 2005.
Together with the folk singer Pete Seeger and his wife, Toshi, the Weins founded the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. It became a focal point of the folk music revival of the 1960s. Joyce Wein worked tirelessly behind the scenes, even cooking for the performers during the festival's early years.
In addition to the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, the Weins organized the Newport Opera Festival and the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. Joyce Wein imported chefs from New Orleans for the Nice festival. She also pioneered the concept of festival food booths selling local cuisine. The Hampton Jazz Festival at historically black Hampton University in Virginia came about when the Hampton president, a longtime friend, told Joyce about plans for the school's centennial in 1968. The festival was so popular that it became an annual event. Initially the Weins's interracial marriage prevented them from staging the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. However in 1970 Joyce Wein won over the support of the police and local community and the festival was established.
George Wein led pianist Thelonious Monk on numerous European tours. In his memoir Wein recalled an incident when Joyce went to pick up Monk for the airport and found the temperamental genius in bed complaining that his hands hurt. "Joyce held his large hands in hers like a caring mother. ‘I'll kiss it and make it better,’ she said in a soothing voice, kissing both hands. Then, more firmly: ‘I think you can go to Europe now, Thelonious.’" Monk caught his plane.
The Weins began producing festivals sponsored by JVC in 1984. Each year they hosted the kick-off media receptions for the JVC Jazz Festival-New York at the Supper Club and on the lawn of the mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion. In 2001 Festival Productions produced 35 festivals around the world with nearly one million attendees.
Collected African-American Art
In the 1980s Kool cigarettes, which had taken over sponsorship of the Newport Jazz Festival, paid the Weins a large sum of money to remove the name Newport from their festival, since it was the name of a competing cigarette brand. For the first time the Weins had extra money and they began collecting art. Although they bought a painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir to please George Wein's parents, their collection became known for its reflections of black American culture, in a variety of artistic styles from the late 1920s through the 1990s, and for its many jazz-influenced works. Their collection included paintings, drawings, sculpture, and fabric art by artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, and Faith Ringgold. There were paintings by jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and collages by Romare Bearden. When John Leland of the New York Times visited the Weins in their Upper-East-Side Manhattan apartment in 2001, he asked Joyce Wein whether the couple had children. She "shook her head, then gestured to the paintings. ‘You're looking at them.’" In 2005 Boston University launched the exhibition Syncopated Rhythms: 20th-Century African American Art from the George and Joyce Wein Collection and published the catalog in book form. It was the first public viewing of the Wein collection.
George Wein told Leland: "Joyce is my greatest teacher. She reads more than I do and pays attention to things I don't. Our marriage has everything to do with where we are now and everything we've done." They often presented a joint lecture entitled "Love and Jazz across the Color Line."
At a Glance …
Born Joyce Alexander on October 21, 1928, in Boston, MA; died on August 15, 2005, in New York City; married George Wein, 1959. Education: Simmons College, BS, chemistry, 1948.
Career: Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, and Columbia University Medical School, New York City, biochemist, 1948-59; Festival Productions, vice president, 1962-late 1990s.
Memberships: The Jazz Community of Saint Peter's Church; Studio Museum, Harlem, vice president of the board of directors.
Awards: Studio Museum, Patrons of the Arts Award (with George Wien), 1995; New School University's Jazz and Contemporary Music Program, Beacons in Jazz Award (with George Wien), 1999.
Joyce Wein was known as the consummate hostess as well as an expert cook. For the last decade of her life, the Weins joined Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault in hosting an annual dinner for Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone, raising more than $500,000. In 2003 the Weins announced their $1-million endowment of the George and Joyce Wein Chair in African American Studies at Boston University and the Alex- ander Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at Simmons College.
Joyce Wein died on August 15, 2005, in New York Presbyterian Hospital, after an extended battle with cancer. Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck told Long of the Boston Globe: "I met her before they were married, when she was trying to be with George and he was trying to be with her…. She was a brilliant woman who was cultured in every way." George Wein told Long: "She was my most important critic. She was involved in everything I did." In a paid notice in the August 19, 2005, New York Times, Erwin Frankel Productions wrote that Joyce Wein was "instrumental in bringing American Jazz to the world."
Hills, Patricia, and Melissa Renn, Syncopated Rhythms: 20th-Century African American Art from the George and Joyce Wein Collection, Boston University Art Gallery, 2005.
Wein, George, and Nate Chinen, Myself Among Others: A Memoir, De Capo, 2003.
Boston Globe, August 17, 2005, p. E13.
Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 2005, p. 19.
International Review of African American Art, 1999, pp. 18-26.
Los Angeles Times, August 18, 2005, p. B10.
New York Beacon, June 16, 1999, p. 33; August 25-31, 2005, p. 27.
New York Times, August 2, 2001, p. F1; August 18, 2005, p. A23; August 19, 2005, p. 14.
Providence Journal, August 17, 2005, p. G7.
"Joyce Wein: Wife, Business Partner of George Wein," All About Jazz,www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=6915 (April 23, 2007).
"The Last Post: Joyce Wein," JazzHouse.org,www.jazzhouse.org/gone/lastpost.php3?edit=1124223601 (July 3, 2007).