Dr. George L. Starks Jr., professor emeritus of music, served for 35 years as director of the highly acclaimed Drexel University Jazz Orchestra, Jazzet, and Saxtet. For 20 years, he produced the Jazz Orchestra's celebrated Jazz Extravaganza, an annual event that drew capacity crowds to Drexel's Mandell Theater. An esteemed lecturer, "Doc," as he was fondly called by his students, taught a variety of courses including World Musics, African American Music, Jazz History, Jazz Improvisation, Topics in Jazz, and Introduction to Music.
An ethnomusicologist with a specialty in New World Musics of African origin, he holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in music from North Carolina A&T State University and the University of Illinois respectively, and the Ph.D.in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University. He has conducted field research in Barbados, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the South Carolina Sea Islands, and Anderson County, South Carolina.
Scholar/musician, his publications are on sacred and secular musics, rural and urban musics, traditional and contemporary musics. Starks served as associate editor of the International Jazz Archives Journal; as contributing editor to The Black Perspective in Music, the pioneering scholarly journal on African derived musics; as Black Scholar-in-Residence at LeMoyne College; as a member of Call and Response, a think tank on African American music; as a Carnegie Hall Advisory Scholar, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts
He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities; been the recipient of the Legacy Award from the African American Museum in Philadelphia, and the recipient of the prestigious Benny Golson Jazz Master Award from Howard University.
As an alto saxophonist, he was recognized in the Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition Category of the Down Beat International Jazz Critics Poll. He has performed with musicians ranging from Ghanaian master drummer Kobena Adzenyah to avant-garde trumpeter Clifford Thornton to vocalist Roy Hamilton to the Charlottesville Symphony Orchestra.
Starks was commissioned to compose and perform the music for the soundtrack of Trading Church Street: Pride, Prejudice, and a Parking Lot, a documentary on what was once a thriving African American business district in Anderson, South Carolina, and he appears in BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, an internationally acclaimed documentary on the life and work of author, activist, educator, and Philadelphia's first Poet Laureate, Sonia Sanchez. He has lectured and/or performed at Harvard University, Yale University, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania, among other colleges and universities.
In addition to Drexel University, he served as chairman of the music department at Spelman College; as Ethnomusicologist-in-Residence at Howard University; as a member of the faculty of the Gullah Studies Institute at historic Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC, and on the music faculties of Coppin State University, the Community College of Philadelphia, and the University of Virginia.