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Michigan State University

MSU jazz professor, Detroit jazz icon elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Rodney Whitaker

Rodney Whitaker, University Distinguished Professor of Jazz Bass and director of Jazz Studies in the Michigan State University College of Music, is among the class of new members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. With this honor, he joins the ranks of artists, scholars, scientists and leaders of one of the oldest learned societies in the United States.

“Professor Whitaker personifies the importance Michigan State places on excellence in arts education and practice, both on campus and off,” said MSU President Kevin M. Guskiewicz, Ph.D. “His mentorship of music students and his ambassadorship for jazz mark him as an artist-educator well deserving of this prestigious honor.”

Originally from Detroit, Whitaker is an internationally renowned recording artist and is considered one of the leading bass performers and teachers of the jazz double bass in the nation. He has toured all over the world with artists such as Diana Krall; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Dizzy Gillespie and more. He also has performed with leading symphony orchestras worldwide. Whitaker’s works have been featured on more than 100 recordings including two film scores.

As an educator, Whitaker has presented master classes, clinics and workshops at conferences, universities, festivals and schools. He is a consultant for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and played a key role in the development of the jazz education department for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Civic Ensembles. His former students have gone on to perform with jazz greats such as Wynton Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, Pat Metheny, Count Basie Orchestra and Stefon Harris. In addition to his work as a University Distinguished Professor at MSU, Whitaker is special assistant to the dean’s office in the College of Music, directing the college’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts.

“This is a tremendous accolade for a most deserving and internationally renowned colleague,” said James Forger, dean of the College of Music. “For over 20 years, Professor Whitaker has grown the jazz program at MSU into one of the finest in the nation, and he has done so with innovation, collaboration and a mentoring philosophy that has enabled graduates to sustain successful music careers while enriching the music community worldwide.”

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 to help a young nation face its challenges through shared purpose, knowledge and ideas. This year, the academy announced 250 new members elected in recognition of their excellence. Included in Professor Whitaker’s class are actor George Clooney, Apple CEO Tim Cook and many others in the arts and academia recognized as the finest in their fields. In total, individuals in 31 areas of expertise are among the new class.

“With gratitude and humility, I would like to convey my sincerest appreciation to the committee members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the amazing individuals who nominated me to this prestigious organization. I hold a high regard for the hard work and support they have contributed to my success, and I share this momentous prestige with them,” Whitaker said. “I hope this distinguished honor encourages others to pursue their own goals and accomplishments because, through a disciplined work ethic and dedication to your craft, success can be achieved. I will continue to stay true to my life’s mission: mentoring 1,000 mentors who will in turn mentor 1,000 mentors.”

The new class joins academy members elected before them, including Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Madeleine Albright, Ken Burns and Salman Rushdie.

“We honor these artists, scholars, scientists and leaders in the public, nonprofit and private sectors for their accomplishments and for the curiosity, creativity and courage required to reach new heights,” said Academy President David Oxtoby.

Induction ceremonies for new members will take place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in September 2024.

Originally published by MSU Today

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