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Everything to know about Mel Powell, a Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer and Pioneering Music Educator at CalArts

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Mel Powell was an acclaimed American composer and pianist who made significant contributions to both classical and jazz music.

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Born Melvin Epstein on February 12, 1923 in The Bronx, New York to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Powell showed an early interest in music and began taking piano lessons at age 4.

He briefly attended the City College of New York and played semi-professional baseball before deciding to pursue music as a career.

Young Mel Powell Playing The Piano / IndianaPublicMedia.com

Powell started playing jazz professionally around New York City in his early teens, working with musicians like Bobby Hackett, Georg Brunis, and Earl Hines.

In 1941, at age 18, he joined Benny Goodman’s band as a pianist and arranger, writing compositions like “Mission to Moscow” and “The Earl”.

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After serving in the military, Powell composed classical works and taught at various music schools including Mannes College, Queens College, Yale University, and CalArts.

He married actress Martha Scott, with whom he had two daughters and a son.

Mel Powell / IMDb.com

Powell was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, which eventually affected his ability to play piano.

His major achievements include:

  • Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1990 for his work “Duplicates: A Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra”
  • Receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship, commissions from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and National Institute of Arts and Letters, and an honorary life membership in the Arnold Schoenberg Institute.

Mel Powell passed away from liver cancer on April 24, 1998 at his home in Sherman Oaks, California at the age of 75.





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