Herbie Hancock Named Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard

Written by MCJStaff   // January 22, 2014   // 0 Comments

Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry Herbie HancockAs a Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, Herbie Hancock will deliver
six lectures  concerning the ethics of jazz.


by Frederick H. Lowe – The NorthStar News
Internationally renowned jazz musician Herbie Hancock has been appointed the 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University, becoming the first African American to hold the post in its 88-year history.

“That’s correct — Herbie Hancock is the first African-American Norton Professor,” Steven Biel, executive director of Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard, wrote to The NorthStar News & Analysis in an email. “A rotating committee of Harvard faculty along with one committee member from another college selects the Norton Professor.”  This year, a Reed College professor participated in the selection process. The Mahindra Humanities Center manages the Norton award.

Professor of Poetry is interpreted in its broadest sense, including all poetic expression in language, music or fine arts. The 73 year-old Hancock is a pianist, keyboardist, bandleader and composer. 

As the Norton professor, Hancock will give six public lectures beginning in February.

The lectures’ overall theme is “The Ethics of Jazz.” His first lecture, scheduled for Monday, February 3, is titled “The Wisdom of Miles Davis.”  Hancock was a member of the Miles Davis Quartet that pioneered a groundbreaking sound in jazz.

The other lectures, called sets, in keeping with jazz lingo, are titled: ”Breaking the Rules,” scheduled for Wednesday, February 12; “Cultural Diplomacy and the Voice of Freedom,” scheduled for Thursday, February 27; “Innovation and New Technologies,” scheduled for Monday, March 10 and “Buddhism and Creativity,” scheduled for Monday, March 24.

The lectures are scheduled for 4 p.m. at Sanders Theatre. Though the lectures are free, interested individuals will need a ticket to attend. The tickets will be available at the Sanders Theatre box office, beginning at noon the day of each lecture or through Harvard’s box office website.

In addition to the lectures, Hancock will schedule office hours to meet with students, Biel said. Hancock will also have a number of other unspecified duties.

The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship was established in 1925.

The first Norton Professorship was awarded in 1926 to Gilbert Murray, a British classical scholar. Murray’s lectures were billed as “The Classical Tradition in Poetry.”

While Murray is not well known among today’s audiences, other Norton awardees are. They include: T.S. Eliot (1932-33), Robert Frost (1939 to 1940), Ben Shahn (1956-57), Jorge Luis Borges (1967-68) and Leonard Bernstein (1973-1974). 

Hancock, a Chicago native, received an Academy Award in 1986 for the“Round Midnight” film score and 14 Grammy Awards.

He is creative chair for Jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and also serves as institute chairman for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, headquartered in Washington, D.C.


2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard

first African-American Norton Professor

Herbie Hancock

Professor of Poetry

“The Ethics of Jazz”

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