Marcus Roberts plays “Rhapsody in Blue” for Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2016 “Symphony with Soul"

Media Contact:
Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
Grand Rapids Symphony
616.454.9451 x 139

GRAND RAPIDS, MI., February 17, 2016 – Pianist Marcus Roberts at age 5 lost his sight, a victim of cataracts and glaucoma. But he attended Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, a school that also helped launch the legendary Ray Charles. Much like with Charles, Roberts’ ears would help make up the difference.   

The jazz pianist who rose to prominence, first with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, later as a solo artist, comes to town for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 15th annual “Symphony with Soul” concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27.   George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is wildly popular all by itself. But Roberts’ original interpretation – the most raucous, most bluesy, most improvisational “Rhapsody in Blue” of all – will be a highlight of “Symphony with Soul.”   

The evening of jazz and blues, gospel and spirituals, features your Grand Rapids Symphony and the Grand Rapids Symphony Community Chorus, directed by Duane Shields Davis. The program opens with the rousing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and concludes with Davis’ original work, “The Call,” for chorus and orchestra, joined by Roberts as piano soloist.   

Music Director Laureate David Lockington, who pioneered “Symphony with Soul” in 2001, returns to the Grand Rapids Symphony podium for the first time since he stepped down as music director in May 2015.   

Roberts and his trio, with Rodney Jordan on double bass and Marsalis’ younger brother, Jason Marsalis, on drums, will be part of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s annual, community-wide concert, preceded by “Celebration of Soul,” a gala dinner celebrating diversity and inclusion initiatives in West Michigan.   

Performers for “Symphony with Soul” include young musicians from Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts & Technology, from the Grand Rapids String Academy directed by Dylana Jenson, and from the Mosaic Scholarship Program. Made possible through a gift from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Mosaic Scholarship Program provides talented African-American and Latino students with musical instrument rental, private, one-on-one lessons with a professional musician from the Grand Rapids Symphony, and tickets to Grand Rapids Symphony concerts. At “Symphony with Soul” these young instrumentalists will perform on stage as part of the Creative Connections program started by Jill Collier Warne.   

Marcus Roberts, who has been profiled on “60 Minutes,” who served as artist-in-residence for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and who appeared on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in 1987, is known for developing an entirely new approach to jazz trio performance, and his notable version of “Rhapsody in Blue” features lengthy trio and improvisatory sections.   


Roberts, age 52, grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where his mother’s love of singing and the music of the local church left a lasting impact on him. After losing his sight at age 5, he began teaching himself to play piano and had his first formal lesson at age 12. Roberts later went on to study classical piano at Florida State University with Leonidas Lipovetsky. Today, he mentors young musicians as an assistant professor of jazz at his alma mater.   

In 1987, Roberts became the first winner of the inaugural Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, an annual competition that focuses on a different instrument every year. But among the competitions he’s won and awards he’s received, the one that’s most meaningful for Roberts personally is the Helen Keller Award for Personal Achievement.  

 The pre-concert “Celebration of Soul” gala and 2016 MaLinda P. Sapp Legacy Awards presentation will honor BL2END, Stephen & Clarice Drew and Huntington Bank for their commitment to the arts, inclusion, education, and bridging cultural differences. Proceeds benefit the Grand Rapids Symphony’s extensive education programs, including the Mosaic Scholarship Program. Tickets to the “Celebration of Soul” are $150, which includes dinner and concert. For more information, visit   

The “Symphony with Soul” concert is sponsored by Steelcase Inc. Guest artist support for Marcus Roberts’ appearance is sponsored by a partnership of Ferris State University and Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.     


Tickets start at $18 and are available at the Symphony office, weekdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 300 Ottawa NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.) Tickets are available by phone in the evening and on Saturday by calling 616.885.1241. Tickets are available at the DeVos Place Box Office, weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets may also be purchased through Ticketmaster, 800.982.2787, online at or in person at Ticketmaster outlets: select D&W Fresh Markets, Family Fare Stores and Walmart. Tickets purchased at these locations will include a Ticketmaster service fee. Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for only $5 on the night of the concert by enrolling in the Symphony’s Student Passport program. This is a MySymphony360 eligible concert.     

About the Grand Rapids Symphony

The Grand Rapids Symphony, now in its 86th season, is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Advisor Larry Rachleff, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, nine concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of musical styles. More than 400 performances are presented each year, touching the lives of some 200,000, nearly half of whom are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities, all reached through extensive education and community service programs. Its affiliate organizations include the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus; Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra; and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. The orchestra sponsors the Grand Rapids Bach Festival and collaborates in live performances with Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet. To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony please visit 

 This activity is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.