Let’s not forget the people we lost this year who didn’t make the music, but contributed in a big way to the jazz we love. Robin Lloyd pays tribute to journalist and archivist Sue Mingus.
Sue Mingus played a crucial role in preserving the legacy of her husband, bassist and composer Charles Mingus.
A journalist and actress, Sue founded a New York arts magazine called “Changes.” She admitted to knowing nothing about jazz when she first met Charles in 1964.
Their backgrounds couldn’t have been much different from each other. Sue was a privileged white upper-middle class Midwesterner; Charles was a gifted but overlooked Black artist who grew up in Watts. Their courtship was notoriously rocky. They finally moved in together after eight years. They married in 1975.
Sue was a prolific note taker, and documented her relationship with Charles in her memoir “Tonight at Noon” which she published in 2003.
After Charles died in 1979, Sue literally kept his music alive by assembling the Mingus Dynasty band for a tribute concert. She put together the ensemble by calling each individual musician listed on the back of his albums.
Sue tirelessly rehearsed the band herself, and took care of the bookings and travel arrangements. The group performed at jazz festivals across the country and served as the core for the later Mingus legacy ensembles, including the 10-piece Mingus Orchestra.
Sue Mingus helped organize Charles’ papers and donated his archives to the Library of Congress. She also published books, including Charles Mingus: More Than a Fake Book in 1991, which included 55 of his original scores; and produced a documentary, Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog in 1998.
Sue started a nonprofit educational organization, Let My Children Hear Music, which grew to include an annual festival and high school jazz competition.
This year, the centennial of Charles Mingus’ birth, the National Endowment for the Arts honored Sue Mingus with a 2023 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.
Sue Mingus died on Sept. 24. She was 92.