A Note from Notes in the Field Composer and Performer Marcus Shelby

AUG 15, 2016

Marcus Shelby

I have had the greatest honor of my life working with Anna Deavere Smith on her School-to-Prison Pipeline Project. I have learned a great deal from her about communication and empathy. Both are central to the blues form given to us by our ancestors, who found a creative way to express hope, determination, and identity in the face of overwhelming oppression. The musical score for my work is born out of this blues tradition, which includes call and response, improvisation, inflection, and tension and release. I have found the power of the blues in all of Anna’s past work, so this is a natural form for us to work with. Each of the individuals whom Anna interviewed has a personal and succinct musicality that embodies the very essence of the blues—triumph over tragedy. The music aims to provide a soulful addition to Anna’s words. The subject material for the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project has personally inspired me to fight for reform using my creative tools. I am eternally grateful to Anna for this opportunity.


Marcus Anthony Shelby is a composer, arranger, bassist, and educator who currently lives in San Francisco. His work and music have focused on the history, present, and future of African American lives, social movements, and early childhood music education. In 1990, Shelby received the Charles Mingus Scholarship to attend CalArts and study composition with James Newton and bass with Charlie Haden. From 1990-1996, Shelby was bandleader of Columbia Records Recording Artists Black/Note. Currently, Shelby is artist in residence with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival. In 2013 Shelby received a MAP Fund Award to compose Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio, an original composition for big band orchestra about the prison industrial complex. In 2015, Shelby was commissioned by Anna Deveare Smith to compose the score for her new play Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education. Shelby also has arranged for Ledisi and the Count Basie Orchestra, recorded with Tom Waits, and received the City Flight Magazine 2005 award as one of the “Top Ten Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area.” Shelby teaches at the Stanford Jazz Workshop and in March 2013, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee appointed Shelby to the San Francisco Arts Commission.


Image Credits
Marcus Shelby: Peter Varshavsky

Related Productions