A. B. Spellman

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A. B. Spellman
A.B. Spellman.jpg
Born (1935-08-12) August 12, 1935 (age 83)
Nixonton, North Carolina, U.S.
OccupationPoet, jazz critic, arts administrator
GenrePoetry, music criticism
Literary movementBlack Arts Movement

Alfred Bennett Spellman (born August 12, 1935), is an African-American poet, music critic, and arts administrator. He first received attention for his 1965 book of poems entitled The Beautiful Days. In 1966 he published a book on the history of African-American music entitled Four Lives in the Bebop Business (aka Black Music: Four Lives; Random House. From 1975 to 2005 he worked as an arts administrator for the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been instrumental in supporting jazz in the United States.


Spellman is the son of two teachers and attended P.W. Moore High School in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where he was a member of the basketball team, glee club and oratorical club. After graduating in 1953, he entered Howard University, where he was active in the chorus, the Howard Players, and he began his writing career. He graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science and then continued with graduate studies in Howard's law school.[1]

In 1959, Spellman began a career as a music critic for a number of magazines including Metronome and Down Beat, for which he wrote reviews of jazz music and musicians. In 1965, he published his first book of poems, entitled The Beautiful Days, which was very well received and considerably raised his profile as a writer. His reputation, however, was truly solidified two years later with his first full-length book, Four Lives in the Bebop Business—later republished as Four Jazz Lives—an in-depth look at the lives of jazz musicians Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Nichols, and Jackie McLean.

During the 1960s, Spellman wrote liner notes for several Blue Note Records albums.

After touring the nation with several other African-American poets in 1967, Spellman joined the staff of Rhythm Magazine, where he wrote poems and political essays until 1969. After leaving the magazine, he conducted a series of lectures at major universities throughout the United States, including Moorehouse College, Emory University, and Rutgers University, among others. He then joined the faculty at Harvard University, where he taught African-American studies from 1972 to 1975.

In 1975 Spellman left Harvard to become director of the Arts in Education Study Project for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) in Washington, D.C. Three years later he became the director of the NEA's Arts Endowment Expansion Program, a position he held for the next eight years. Between 1994 and 1996, he served as associate deputy for program coordination at the NEA, and then became the director of the NEA's Office of Guidelines and Panel Operations. In 1998, he was appointed the deputy chairman for the Office of Guidelines, Panel and Council Operations for the NEA where he remained until his retirement in 2005.

Spellman's first collection of poetry, The Beautiful Days, was published by Poets Press in 1965. In 2008, he released Things I Must Have Known, a collection of poetry, with Coffee House Press.

A.B. Spellman married SNCC activist and producer Karen Edmonds Spellman on October 14, 1969; they have two daughters, Toyin Spellman Diaz, oboist for Imani Winds and Kaji Spellman Douša, Senior Pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church. A.B. was formerly married to artist Danielle Ryvlin Spellman; their son is Hollywood writer and producer Malcolm Spellman.



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