Jazz percussionist uses music to empower Jacksonville youth


Grammy Award-winning jazz percussionist, producer and educator Ulysses Owens Jr. was recently named the 2022 Ann McDonald Baker Art Ventures Award recipient by The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

The award, bestowed annually, recognizes a gifted local artist whose work brings distinction to Northeast Florida. The award is named for the late Ann McDonald Baker and includes a $10,000 unrestricted grant for the recipient.

A graduate of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and the Juilliard School of Music, and a Jacksonville native, Owens was called “a drummer who takes a back seat to no one,” by the New York Times. Owens’ artistic command of percussion has earned him positions in some of the most successful jazz ensembles in the world. His accolades are numerous, including being named a “Rising Star” by DownBeat Magazine five times in a row; the Gold Medal winner in the 2014 Global Music Awards; and a 2015 Jazz at Lincoln Center Awards Honoree.

His most notable accomplishments are performances on the 2021 Grammy Award-winning album “Dedicated to You,” and the 2021 Grammy Award-winning big band album, “The Good Feeling.”

In addition to touring, he is regularly involved in special projects, including serving as artist-in-residence at the Park Avenue Armory Conservancy. He was also commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art to compose a work for the museum’s Summer Garden Series. Owens has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to educating music’s next generation and has held music positions at numerous music schools.

Alongside his international touring schedule, Owens is deeply invested in Jacksonville. In 2008, he was inspired to create a nonprofit organization, Don’t Miss A Beat, with his family as an antidote to the level of high school dropouts and murder rates among young Black people in the community.

The program began with the singular objective of helping suspended youth stay in school so they wouldn’t “miss a beat.” Today, Don’t Miss A Beat blends music, art, academic achievement and civic engagement to enhance the lives of children, teens and their parents in the Riverside, Brooklyn and Woodstock communities of Jacksonville. The organization uses the performing arts to facilitate youth development, cultivate talent, provide academic support and enhance educational achievement and graduation rates.

“Ulysses’ superior artistry has brought a singular distinction to Northeast Florida,” said Amy Crane, senior program director at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida and coordinator of the award’s selection process. “It is this type of dedication to craft Ann McDonald Baker sought to recognize in her lifetime through Art Ventures.”

Owens was introduced as the 2022 Ann McDonald Baker Award winner at the Don’t Miss A Beat Summer Camp finale and the Broadway production of “Dreamgirls” held last month in Jacksonville.


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