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TCNJ Jazz Ensemble Celebrates Michael Ray: A Lifetime of Musical Achievement

TCNJ Jazz Ensemble Celebrates Michael Ray: A Lifetime of Musical Achievement

On November 9, 2018, IMM joined the Departments of Music and Journalism & Professional Writing to jointly support a concert in Kendall Hall celebrating the distinguished career of guest artist trumpeter Michael Ray. Mr. Ray joined the TCNJ Jazz Ensemble for an exciting performance alongside his own touring ensemble, Cosmic Krewe. The concert format included a live interview with Professor Kim Pearson, featuring stories and mixed media interspersed with iconic musical selections. The event capped off an exciting week-long residency, including masterclasses in which Mr. Ray and his wife, Laranah Phipps-Ray, inspired TCNJ students from across campus. A number of TCNJ organizations made this creative exchange possible, including Trenton Makes Music, the Cultural and Intellectual Community Council, and The School of the Arts and Communication.


Michael Ray’s professional musical career has spanned more than 50 years, with innovative contributions across musical styles, including funk, jazz, R&B, electronica, and fusion. He was born in Trenton in 1952 and began playing the trumpet at a young age. He attended Trenton State College for a few years before leaving to go on tour with Patti Labelle and Bluebelles during the 1960s. He also performed with R&B acts such as The Delfonics and The Stylistics before joining Kool & the Gang and Sun Ra, two ground-breaking, Grammy-winning ensembles, in the late 1970s. He played with the Sun Ra Arkestra for fourteen years, appearing on many albums during that period. He mixed Mayan Temples, Sun Ra’s last studio session, in 1992. Since then, Mr. Ray continues to perform and tour extensively with Sun Ra Arkestra. He has performed and recorded with PHISH. In addition to his work as a performer, he worked with his friend and Kool and the Gang bandmate Clifford Adams to promote music education. Ray credits his teachers and mentors at Junior 3 and Trenton High School, including Tommy Grice and Tom Passarella, with providing the foundation for his music career.


This event highlighted Mr. Ray’s impressive accomplishments as a Trenton-born musician, while also showcasing the talented student musicians in the TCNJ Jazz Ensemble and providing an opportunity for them to perform with high-caliber professional artists who model professional excellence and commercial success. Separately, Mr. Ray recorded a longer oral history interview in the AIMM Recording Studio about his life and musical beginnings in Trenton, his accomplishments, and the work he continues to do to support music education in the city. This interview, conducted by Kim Pearson, will be made available through the online archive at Connections with the Trenton musical community that were initiated through the Trenton Makes Music project (and other TCNJ initiatives) will continue to be developed and strengthened.

Trenton Makes Music

Kim Pearson, Director

Teresa Nakra, Co-Director and Producer

Sarah Dash, Host

Rachel Lichtenberg, Program Assistant, Department of Interactive Multimedia

Rosa Rodriguez, Program Assistant, Department of Journalism & Professional Writing


Project partners:

TCNJ School of the Arts and Communication

TCNJ Cultural and Intellectual Community Council

Don Evans Memorial Fund

Peter and Mary Russo Fund

TCNJ Departments of Music, Interactive Multimedia, African American Studies, and Journalism & Professional Writing