On Friday, Feb. 27, the Center for Arts and Media multipurpose room was filled with the music of Dr. Valarie Capers.
Capers, the first blind student to graduate (B.S., M.S.) from New York’s Juilliard School of Music, was throwing down jazz notes faster than a prep cook at Benihana’s restaurant, to a delighted crowd.
“Her classic jazz phrasing seems to transport you into a smoky club; like in the ’50s, when jazz was the most pure,” says Salt Lake Community College communications student Marc Hansen.
Capers spent the previous week giving musical workshops and lectures to SLCC students and faculty as part of an artist-in-residence program. She, along with fellow artist-in-residence John Robinson and the George Brown Quintet, culminated the week with a concert to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Between Capers’ exceptional performance in a number of songs, including the classic “Night in Tunisia”, Robinson delivered a moving rendition of “Precious Lord,” Dr. King’s favorite song, on the recorder. The Duke Ellington Finale Medley brought the house down to the last of several standing ovations.
After receiving an award for their musical contribution to the community, Capers graciously received individuals and posed for fan photos.
Capers says music is an international language and encourages students to not get discouraged.
“Don’t let your insecurities get you down. So what if someone can play better than you? The point is you are the only one who can play like you do and that’s the real point of it all,” she says.
Born in the Bronx to a musical family, by age six, Capers had lost her vision and was soon attending the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. She continued attending school and fine-tuning her instructional skills and eventually earned her doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of Susquehannah in Pennsylvania.
Capers has recorded several albums and developed a jazz curriculum while working at Bronx Community College. She has worked with Tito Puente, Wynton Marsalis, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few, and was awarded Essence magazine’s Women of Essence first Award in Music (1987).
Capers hosts music clinics across the country to encourage and inspire students and faculty.