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Black History Month: Davey Yarborough

When speaking with DCJF Artistic Director Willard Jenkins, legendary DC Jazz educator and musician Davey Yarborough stated, “We started the WJAI because of our understanding of the importance of inspiration, support and guidance in a developing artist’s journey.”

Yarborough served as the Duke Ellington School of the Arts’ Jazz band director for over 40 years up until his retirement in 2019. During his tenure, Yarborough accumulated many musical and academic accolades for his influential work as D.C.’s premiere Jazz instructors. While he appreciates these much-deserved honors, Yarborough’s true passion comes from empowering the hundreds of aspiring jazz musicians that filled his classrooms over the years; where he consistently made sure that his student’s needs were met, both in-and-out of the classroom. Yarborough and his wife, Esther Williams, founded The Washington Jazz Arts Institute (WJAI) in 1998, and he has served as its president ever since, continuing his journey as an educator to this day.

In addition to his excellence in the classroom, Yarbrough also is an accomplished jazz musician, having shared the stage with jazz legends including Sarah Vaughn, Shirley Horn, Wynton Marsalis, Rick Henderson, and Keter Betts. Perhaps what most prepared Yarborough for his career was his own jazz education, learning from legends Frank Wess and Sonny Stitt. While Yarborough’s innate talent as a Jazz performer could have taken him anywhere in the world, his goal of entrusting the future of jazz in the hands of musicians of tomorrow reigned above all.

For our final #BlackHistoryMonth feature, please join us in honoring Davey Yarborough’s 40 plus years of service to our community and for his commitment to empowering the next generation of Jazz artists. Let’s salute Davey Yarborough by donating to the Washington Jazz Institute at


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