New $1 million Singleton gift to VCU honors jazz musician James W. Black

Richmond philanthropist now a $3 million contributor to VCU Jazz

Virginia Commonwealth University today announced a new $1 million commitment to the VCU School of the Arts Jazz Studies program from W. E. Singleton, a Richmond, Va. philanthropist and jazz enthusiast, and his wife, Dale Harman Singleton. The gift was made in memory of their long-time friend, jazz pianist James W. Black, for whom the VCU Music Center building on Grove Avenue will be renamed. 

W. E. Singleton is now a $3 million investor in VCU Jazz. His earlier 2002 gift of $2 million was the largest gift ever made in the United States to support university-level jazz education. The school’s performing arts center now bears the W. E. Singleton name.

“This is a very meaningful gift that at once honors a fine jazz musician and benefits our VCU students,” said Dr. Richard Toscan, Dean of the VCU School of the Arts. “The Singletons have struck a wonderful match between their devotion to jazz and our mission. We are deeply grateful to be the recipient of their philanthropy.”

The new Singleton gift will name the existing VCU Music Center, located at the corner of Harrison and Grove. The teaching and rehearsal facility is scheduled for a renovation beginning in April 2005, with projected completion in the fall of 2007. The facility will be known as the James W. Black Music Center, honoring the memory of the jazz musician whose death in October 2004 stunned a host of devoted friends and jazz fans. 

Known to his audiences as Jimmy Black, the Richmond-born jazz pianist engaged and enthralled generations of Virginia audiences. Black initially entered the music spotlight as a University of Virginia student in the 1950s. When a snow storm prevented their back-up band from joining trumpet great Louis Prima and vocalist Keely Smith for a UVA spring formal, Jimmy Black’s student jazz trio joined Prima and Smith on stage that evening and were an instant hit.

“I’ve heard a lot of jazz piano players over the last 55 years,” said Singleton. “Most of them play well, but not all of them make music. In the good ones that do, I hear style, creativity, subtle tempos and key changes and the general feeling of the fun of jazz. I heard it in Erroll Garner and I heard it in Fats Waller. And I heard it in Jimmy.”

Jeffrey W. Black, the pianist’s son, expressed gratitude on behalf of the Black family. “It is very nice to know that, given all the joy Dad’s music brought to people throughout his lifetime, his legacy continues with the generous gift by Mr. Singleton. What a truly wonderful friendship they shared along with a mutual love of jazz. Dad’s appreciation of great music may now be fostered for generations to come.” 

Augmenting the Singleton gift, the Black family intends to donate to the VCU Jazz Studies Program their father’s music library, containing hundreds of albums, CDs, cassettes and private videos.