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Dorthaan’s Walk: Honoring Newark’s First Lady of Jazz

In honor of WBGO's own Dorthaan Kirk, a 2020 NEA Jazz Master, hear our recent celebration of her legacy.

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of Dorthaan Kirk to WBGO.

Newark’s First Lady of Jazz, as she’s widely known, has also been the spiritual center of our organization. Today is her last day in the building, though she will continue to be a vital (and no doubt vocal!) member of our family.

We couldn’t let her last day go by without special acknowledgement. In this hourlong program, we’ll surprise DK with a lively conversation led by bassist Christian McBride, the host of Jazz Night in America. They discuss her formative years in Houston, Tx.; her deep bond with second husband Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who bestowed her name; her core involvement with Bethany Baptist Church in Newark; and the frontier resourcefulness that was necessary, 40 years ago, to start up a musician-focused public radio station committed to jazz.

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Credit WBGO
WBGO's cofounders, Dorthaan Kirk and Bob Ottenhoff, in an undated photo from the archives

We’ll also hear a chorus of voices paying tribute to DK — from Bob Ottenhoff, WBGO’s founder; to Steve Turre, a longtime compatriot of Rahsaan’s; to Josh Jackson, WBGO’s former Vice President of Content, and founder of The Checkout.

As our own Rhonda Hamilton puts it in the introduction, the program is “a little tracing-your-roots, WBGO-style.” It’s a fond and fitting salute to someone who always walked the walk, and whose tireless example has meant so much to our music.

And don’t miss a slideshow of recent images at the top of this page, featuring Dorthaan with just a handful of the countless musicians and artists she has welcomed to WBGO.