Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, a member of Local 802 (New York City), has been named the recipient of the 2020 Ken Burns American Heritage Prize. The award will be presented May 6, 2020, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Named in honor of America’s most revered visual historian and filmmaker, the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize recognizes individuals whose achievements have advanced our collective understanding of America’s heritage and the indomitable American spirit of our people. Nominees for the annual Prize consist of visionary artists, authors, educators, filmmakers, historians, and scientists. The candidates are chosen by a national jury of distinguished leaders who represent communities across the country and share a common appreciation of America’s heritage.
American Prairie Reserve, which created the prize, is described as a modern-day embodiment of America’s optimistic and boundless approach to accomplishing the unprecedented—in this case, by creating the largest nature reserve in the continental United States, located on the Great Plains of northeastern Montana.
“The momentum of folly leads us to embrace an intellectual and spiritual corrosion that confuses commerce with cultivation, remuneration with regeneration, and money with meaning. I love the term ‘rewilding’ because it is at once innovation and conservation. American Prairie Reserve’s rewilding of our nation’s landscape reintroduces us to our natural instincts. Ken Burns’s rewilding of our collective memory illuminates the hidden corners of our humanity. Jazz is a music that rewilds the soul with every listen. I am deeply appreciative to receive this prize from an institution I respect, bearing the name of a genius I admire and on behalf of a music that defines us at our best,” said Marsalis upon being notified of his selection as the 2020 Prize recipient.
Marsalis is the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC), which he helped found. Marsalis grew up in a musical household in New Orleans and studied classical trumpet at The Julliard School in New York City, and pursued his love of jazz by joining Art Blakey’s band. Aside from overseeing Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis continues to perform, compose, and participate in educational workshops. Marsalis created the companion soundtrack recording to Ken Burns’s documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson and appeared in Burns’s Jazz and Country Music documentaries. In addition to his musical talent, Marsalis has written six books.
“It’s a privilege to lend my name to a prize honoring individuals whose accomplishments reinforce the nation’s understanding of all that is possible,” Burns said. “The prize we will present together to Wynton acknowledges the historic role that the Great Plains played in helping to shape America’s character. It’s that same character, courage, and fortitude that Wynton’s tremendous work elucidates.”