The Troy Street Observer

Jan 18, 1976: Mary Lou’s Mass at Emmanuel Church

It was a special Sunday at Emmanuel Church, on Newbury Street in the Back Bay, on January 18, 1976. On that evening the esteemed pianist Mary Lou Williams performed her Music for Peace, which came to be known as Mary Lou’s Mass, for the first time in Boston.

Cover of Mary Lou's Mass SFW40815
The Smithsonian Folkways reissue of Mary Lou’s Mass (SFW40815)

Williams performed in a trio with bassist Brian Torff and drummer Tony Racciati, and was accompanied by the chorus from the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, under the direction of John Andrew Ross. The event was sponsored by the Jazz/Arts Ministry and was part of the Jazz Celebrations series that was staged in the Back Bay churches in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Williams converted to Catholicism in 1957, and over the coming decades worked to align her music and her faith, a story recounted by pianist Deanna Witkowski. Music for Peace, Williams’s third mass, was commissioned in 1969 by the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace. Witkowski notes the commission was a dream come true for Williams.

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