Faculty Focus: Dr. George L. Starks, Jr.
April 1, 2009 — Music Professor George L. Starks, Jr., Director of Drexel's Jazz Orchestra, is an ethnomusicologist, a scholar who studies the "social and cultural aspects of music in local and global environments." Dr. Starks specializes in New World musics of African origin and his field research has led him to Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and South Carolina's Sea Islands. George is also a noted saxophone player well-recognized in Philadelphia's jazz scene.
Dr. Starks's scholarship has created publications on sacred and secular musics, urban and rural musics, and traditional and contemporary musics. George has served as a contributing editor to The Black Perspective in Music, the first scholarly journal on African derived musics. Currently, Dr. Starks serves as associate editor of the International Jazz Archives Journal.
A scholar and a musician, Dr. Starks has an extensive history of critically acclaimed performances. He has performed with trumpeter Clifford Thornton, vocalist Roy Hamilton, Ghanaian master drummer Kobena Adzenyah, and as a special guest soloist with the Charlottesville Symphony Orchestra. "The George Starks Quartet," brings together some of Philadelphia's finest musicians in the African American and jazz traditions. His quartet recently presented "Jazz: African American Composers and the Great American Songbook" on the Drexel campus, and the Drexel Jazz Orchestra's many concerts draw full houses and appreciative audiences.
As a part of his continuing efforts to increase public understanding of African derived cultures, Dr. Starks draws upon his extensive collection of African art. His home is a veritable museum featuring an astounding array of masks, statues, musical instruments and utilitarian objects. Dr. Starks's personal collections have been the basis of exhibitions at Drexel's Pearlstein and Rincliffe Galleries and he has loaned works from his collection to exhibitions in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Orlando, Tallahassee and Atlanta. A recent exhibition at the Hartsfield/Jackson International Airport in Atlanta included pieces from George's collection and is said to have been one of the most widely viewed exhibitions of African art ever. And, Dr. Starks remains a passionate teacher whose classes in the Music program include World Musics, African American Music, Jazz History, Jazz Improvisation, and leading the University's Jazz Orchestra, Jazztet, and Saxtet.
For many years, Dr. Starks was a member of "Call and Response," a think-tank on African American music. He served as a faculty member for the Gullah Studies Institute at historic Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, and chaired the Music Department at Spelman College, the highly regarded women's college in Atlanta, Georgia. Most recently, Dr. Starks was commissioned to compose and perform the music for the soundtrack of Trading Church Street: Pride, Prejudice, and a Parking Lot, a documentary on what was once a thriving African American business district in his hometown of Anderson, South Carolina. The Westphal College is proud that Professor Starks is one of our own and we congratulate Dr. Starks for touching the lives of so many students and for his contributions to African American music and culture.