Archive for May, 2012

‘Soul of Our Nation is on Trial,’ Civil Rights Leader William Barber Tells NCCU Grads

Monday, May 14th, 2012

North Carolina Central University awarded bachelor’s degrees to 536 students on Saturday, May 12, in commencement ceremonies at O’Kelly–Riddick Stadium.

But before the graduates walked across the stage to collect their diplomas, they were rousingly challenged by the Rev. William Barber II to engage in the never-ending fight for social justice. Barber, a 1985 graduate of NCCU and the president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, brought the crowd to its feet with an address that recalled the messages and the cadences of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“You live at a turning point in history,” Barber said. “These are tough times, troubling times. We see mean and oppressive politics taking us in the wrong direction. Why are you here? Because there’s a God who has to raise a counterforce to injustice.”

Barber noted that he had recently concluded a statewide “Putting a Face on Poverty Tour,” drawing attention to the continuing reality that 1.6 million state residents — including 600,000 children — live below the poverty line. “We found human beings living under bridges and in the woods,” he said. “We have seen poverty that makes you sick and ashamed.

“The soul of our nation is on trial,” Barber said. “If our values are right and our budgets are just, we can build a better society. We can put the poor at the center of our public policy agenda. We can reject hate and division. We can finish the job of being, in word and deed, one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.”

NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms presented Barber with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and citation “in recognition of his tireless service to society as a warrior for justice and social change and a speaker of truth to power.”

As has become his custom at commencement ceremonies, Nelms publicly recognized a few of the graduates for their accomplishments and their success in overcoming obstacles.

He praised LaSaundra Maynor, who graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health Education. A mother of three, she was encouraging her eldest daughter to plan for college when her daughter urged her to do the same. So Maynor enrolled at NCCU, taking her classes and completing internships while continuing to work five 12-hour shifts a week as a nursing staff specialist at Durham Regional Hospital.

He also praised Alejandro Espitia as “an exemplar of the phrase student-athlete.” Espitia, a native of Bogota, Colombia, graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He was captain of the NCCU tennis team and also performed many hours of community service as a tennis teacher to poor children and a volunteer at many events. He will enter law school at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

Four faculty members were honored during the ceremony. Dr. Ira T. Wiggins, longtime director of NCCU’s renowned Jazz Studies program, received the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. NCCU awards for teaching excellence were presented to Dr. Prince Hycy Bull, associate professor and coordinator of educational technology at the School of Education; Dr. La Verne Reid, associate dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Science and professor of Public Health Education; and Dr. James Pearce, associate professor of English and director of the English Department’s graduate program.

Two longtime members of the NCCU Board of Trustees, Kay T. Thomas and R. Edward Stewart, were awarded the titles of trustees emeriti.

This was the second year in which NCCU conducted separate commencement exercises for graduate and professional students. In a ceremony Friday, the university awarded master’s and law degrees to 385 graduates. More information and photos from both ceremonies can viewed at the Commencement website,

Master’s and Law Degrees Presented to 385 Graduates at NCCU

Monday, May 14th, 2012

North Carolina Central University awarded graduate and professional degrees to 385 students on Friday, May 11, in ceremonies at McDougald–McLendon Gymnasium. In a rousing commencement address, attorney and talk-show host Warren Ballentine challenged the graduates to “stay humble and remember to dream.”

“You are the cream of the crop,” Ballentine told the graduates. “Many of you will go on to great things. But remember the journey is not yours alone. You stood on the shoulders of your family members and others who came before you. Always remember whence you came — and always humble yourself.”

Ballentine is the host of “The Warren Ballentine Show,” one of the top-rated syndicated talk shows in the nation. He encourages his listeners to harness injustice as a means of bringing about change and solving the problems of the black community.

He urged the graduates to look out for each other and to cultivate “geese sense.” Geese have the sense to fly in flocks, he noted. They are able to travel much faster with a single goose in front working hard, and yielding to another member of the flock when tired. “They have the sense to come together,” Ballentine said. “They have each other’s back.”

NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms joined Ballentine in congratulating the graduates and, as is his custom, he publicly recognized a few for their success in overcoming obstacles.

Nelms praised Belinda Behncke Biney, who graduated magna cum laude with a Master of Business Administration degree. Behncke Biney grew up in Germany, the daughter of parents who had emigrated from Ghana, and was usually the only black person in her classes. She came to the United States to attend Virginia Commonwealth University on a volleyball scholarship, but soon transferred to NCCU to experience life as a member of the majority at a historically black university. She received an undergraduate degree in political science and starred on the volleyball team. She had a year of eligibility remaining on her athletics scholarship, so she continued as a student-athlete during her first year of graduate school — and was named student-athlete of the year for 2010-11.

The chancellor also praised T. Greg Doucette, who received a Juris Doctor degree as a graduate of the NCCU School of Law.  A onetime dropout from N.C. State University who was homeless for a time before returning to earn a degree at N.C. State, Doucette emerged as a student leader while a law student at NCCU. He served as president of both the UNC Association of Student Governments and the NCCU Student Bar Association

Bass player Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn dies in Tokyo

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Bass player and songwriter Donald “Duck’’ Dunn, a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame band Booker T. and the MGs and the Blues Brothers band, has died in Tokyo. He was 70.

Dunn was in Tokyo for a series of shows. News of his death was posted on the Facebook site of his friend and fellow musician Steve Cropper, who was on the same tour. Cropper said Dunn died in his sleep.

Miho Harasawa, a spokeswoman for Tokyo Blue Note, the last venue Dunn played, confirmed he died alone early Sunday. She had no further details.

Originally published on

NCCU School of Law Uses Cutting Edge Technology and Desktop Video-Conferencing as Teaching Tool

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Raymond Pierce, dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, announces the offering of a new summer certificate program, “Justice in the Practice of Law.” The program is available to law students across the United States. All courses are offered in the evening and run consecutively. Classes will be taught using telepresence and desktop video-conferencing and are fully interactive. The school will provide students with a laptop, mobile broadband and desktop video-conferencing software, enabling them to interact with their professor and other students in real time by audio and video as if they were in a traditional classroom.

“We are one of few law schools in the country with the technology capability to deliver courses in a true synchronous manner to a desktop or laptop using video conferencing and telepresence,” said Greg Clinton, director of information technology for the NCCU School of Law. “This is an awesome opportunity for the law school and university.”

This program adds to NCCU School of Law’s distance education offerings. The law school has been offering synchronous distance education courses for more than two years using a custom-designed virtual classroom. A grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has made it possible to expand the broadband infrastructure, acquire a Polycom Telepresence Room and position the law school at the forefront of synchronous distant education.

“This summer program offers an excellent opportunity for students to receive instruction and engage in dialogue in a fundamental area of the law within a state-of–the-art electronic venue,” said Dean Pierce.

For more information visit:

or contact:

Pamela Newell
Director, NCCU Law Distance Education
[email protected]


Ray Barretto

Friday, May 4th, 2012

For nearly 40 years, conguero and bandleader Ray Barretto has been one of the leading forces in Latin jazz. His hard, compelling playing style has graced the recordings of saxophonists Gene Ammons, Lou Donaldson, and Sonny Stitt, and guitarists Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.

Born April 29, 1929, in Brooklyn, Barretto is credited for being the first U.S.-born percussionist to integrate the African-based conga drum into jazz. This fact has designated him as on of the early “crossover” artists in jazz — skillfully balancing his Latin leanings and his love for bebop througout a long and successful career.

Barretto’s mother Delores was a financially strapped Puerto Rican immigrant determined to make a better life for her children. While she attended night school to study English, Ray and his siblings were glued to the radio, listening to jazz.

Hearing big band sounds of Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, and Tommy Dorsey, Barretto became enthralled by music. The radio wasn’t the only source of musical entertainment for Barretto — he learned about the majesty of Duke Ellington from a movie called Revelry With Beverly.

Growing up in 1940s America was difficult for the new Puerto Rican immigrants. Barretto and his family were no exception, as they were legally forced to move constantly from one home to another.

To escape the inner-city blues of the Bronx, Barretto enlisted in the army where he was introduced to bebop. After being mesmerized by the 45-rpm of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Shaw Nuff,” Barretto discovered one of Gillespie’s most defining songs, “Manteca,” which featured conguero Chano Pozo.

While in the service, Barretto quickly learned that military life was not going to protect him from racial discrimination. When he was stationed in Germany, he found a nightclub that catered only to black GI’s. It was at this club that Barretto began his musical career by playing the back head of a banjo.

After his discharge in 1949, Barretto returned to New York City, where he bought a drum set to further pursue his musical interests. The horrifically-named Bucket of Blood club hosted Barretto’s early gigs, but as his technical skills improved he decided to seek out and learn from the bebop masters.

During the early 1950s, mambo was as hot as the bebop movement. Barretto regularly attended concerts at the Palladium Dance Hall, where timbale virtuoso Tito Puente (left) often led his magnificent orchestra. In 1957, Barretto joined the group, replacing the legendary Mongo Santamaria.

Becoming part of Puente’s orchestra, didn’t curb Barretto’s interest in bebop. He was building a solid reputation as a top rate studio percussionist for jazz heroes like drummer Art Blakey, saxophonist Lou Donaldson and guitarist Kenny Burrell.

Unfortunately, at this point in jazz history, the conga drum was viewed as a mere adornment and Barretto rarely performed on the road with these musicians. Donaldson (left), who made some of his most significant Blue Note recordings with Barretto, never took Ray on tour.

Although many bebop fans despised the conga because of its rigid beats, as time and the music progressed, the instrument became more widely accepted. After several years of being one of the most in-demand sidemen in jazz, Barretto formed his first ensemble, Charanga La Moderna, in 1962.

It was with Charanga that he recorded the boogaloo standard, “El Watusi” in 1962. The song became a huge national hit and helped establish Barretto as a bandleader, but to this day the drummer is somewhat critical of its success.

Also during the early 1960s, Barretto began a his relationship with New York-based record label Fania, which specialized in Latin music and was, according to Barretto, the Latin version of Motown. Over the the next decade, Barretto became a member and eventually music director for the label’s famed Fania All-Stars. The band included trombonist Willie Colon, vocalists Hector Lavoe and Ruben Blades, and pianist Larry Harlow.

Barretto spent nearly three decades with the Fania All-Stars. But as time went on, he found himself frustrated with the limitations of salsa. So in 1992, he formed his current ensemble, New World Spirit, that places a heavier emphasis on bebop jazz. The group released its third album, Portraits in Jazz and Clave, in early 2000. With the success of New World Spirit and his induction into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 1999, Ray Barretto is ready help lead Latin jazz into the next millennium.

Bio originally published on NPR’s Jazz Profiles.

Jazz on the Lawn Series Starts This Friday

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Spring is here and to compliment the blossoming flowers and warm weather, WNCU has festive activities that the family can enjoy. We are hosting a Jazz on the Lawn Series in partnership with the American Tobacco Campus. Live jazz performances will be held at the American Tobacco Campus on stage near the tower on May 4, July 4 and Aug. 31. The performers are as follows:

May 4 – NCCU Big Band
July 4 – John Brown and Jazz Force
Aug. 31 – UNC Charanga Carolina Band

Each event will be held from 6 – 8 p.m., and they are free and open to the public. There will be an abundance of space on the lawn so bring a chair or blanket and your family and friends for an evening of exciting entertainment.