Remembering Steve Edwards, a Steward and a Stalwart on the Board of Trustees at WBGO
Steve Edwards, who died on April 8 of complications from COVID-19, has been memorialized for his distinguished law career. He also served on WBGO’s Board of Trustees, bringing the same energy and integrity for which he was known in the legal field.
Edwards was a corporate litigator at Quinn Emmanuel, which remembered him in a statement as “a superb lawyer and a wonderful human being.” A former president of the Federal Bar Council, he was also chair of the antitrust section of the New York State Bar Association, and president/cofounder of the Federal Bar Council American Inn of Court. The American Lawyer’s article about his passing noted in the headline that he “Combined Litigation Prowess With Character and Kindness.”
“Steve was kind, generous, whip-smart, and a bit of an idealist when it came to things he was most passionate about, like music, especially jazz,” attests John Newcott, WBGO’s Director of Individual Giving, who worked closely with Edwards over the last six years.
A musician himself, Edwards believed deeply in WBGO’s mission — and in its future. As Chair of our Strategic Planning Committee, he encouraged the development of a multiplatform media presence, notably in the area of online content.
Board Chair Karl Frederic remembers Edwards for his sharp vision and unwavering commitment. “He immediately impressed me with his devotion to WBGO, particularly his interest in developing a viable and robust strategic plan,” Frederic says. “Over the course of his tenure on the board, he was probably our most prodigious fundraiser, both in terms of his own giving and the giving he encouraged from others.”
An Iowa native, Edwards began his musical career in The Stompers, a teenaged rock ‘n’ roll band informed both by American rhythm and blues and the British Invasion. Formed in 1963, the band recorded its first single, “I Know,” the following year. (It has been featured in garage-rock compilations, and the original seven-inch is a collector’s item.)
According to the Iowa Rock ‘N’ Roll Music Association, which inducted The Stompers into its Hall of Fame in 2006, the band opened for the Everly Brothers, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Edwards never stopped playing and creating: he wrote a rock opera called Something Afoot, and was a member of Law Dogs, composed of other moonlighting players from the legal profession.
“In 2017 he participated in Law Rocks, a battle of the bands formed from various law firms,” Frederic says. The competition, held in multiple cities every year, raises funds for local nonprofits — “and he made WBGO the beneficiary in that year.”
While rock ‘n’ roll was in his bones, Edwards was unquestionably a jazz fan, in the present tense. “Arguably, his two favorite jazz artists were Helen Sung and Anat Cohen,” remembers Newcott, who bonded with Edwards over their mutual interest in songwriting and performing.
“I also have fond memories of hanging out with the Edwardses at Mohonk,” Newcott says, “with his wife Robin and daughter Lizzie, whose rock band I went to see a couple of times. The quintessential proud papa, he was always so appreciative of the support.”
Among my own small handful of Steve Edwards memories is an evening at the WBGO Yamaha Salon last October. I was emcee for the evening, which Newcott had programmed as a double bill with singer-songwriter Becca Stevens and pianist-composer Dan Tepfer.
Both artists brought their freshest and finest: Stevens premiered songs from a forthcoming album, Wonderbloom, and Tepfer showcased the algorithmic magic of his project Natural Machines. After the performance, I rode the elevator down to street level with Steve and Robin, who were both brimming with enthusiasm over what they’d just experienced.
As I remember it, Steve turned to me with a big, beaming smile. “That was absolutely incredible,” he said. “I don’t know how we’re going to top it.”
At a meeting of WBGO’s Board of Trustees on May 7, 2020, the following resolution passed unanimously:
Be it resolved that the Officers, Board and Staff of WBGO affirm their respect, admiration, and appreciation for the late Steve Edwards. Until his untimely death from COVID-19, Steve was the Vice Chair of the Board since 2019 and elected to the Board in 2014. Steve brought a generosity of spirit to WBGO, which he demonstrated through his personal philanthropy and commitment of time. He was equally generous in providing counsel to staff and his fellow Board members. Most recently in leading WBGO’s strategic planning effort, Steve included Board members and convened members of the WBGO staff to identify challenges and opportunities and helped keep the station on the cutting edge through musical programming designed to capture a new generation of jazz listeners and addressed station operations and resource development. Steve Edwards held himself to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism and served as a role model for all who knew him. Steve will be sorely missed by the WBGO family.