Meet The 2021 Music Educator Award Recipient: Jeffrey Murdock On Why Music Education Is Bigger Than The Classroom

Jeffrey Murdock

Photo: Leslie McFalls


Meet The 2021 Music Educator Award Recipient: Jeffrey Murdock On Why Music Education Is Bigger Than The Classroom

An associate professor of music at the University of Arkansas, Jeffrey Murdock is using his new platform as the 2021 Music Educator Award Recipient to demonstrate that music education is not a limited pursuit, but an all-encompassing one

GRAMMY Museum/Mar 30, 2021 - 06:42 pm

A semi-finalist of this year's Music Educator Award, Jeffrey Murdock was expecting a call from Harvey Mason jr., the Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of The Recording Academy. Still, he didn’t expect what Mason would lay on him when he gave him a ring: he had been deemed the 2021 GRAMMY Music Educator Of The Year. 

Once the initial shock wore off, though, the University of Arkansas associate professor of music realized he had an important new platform. "I realize that the 2022 candidate is already being selected," Murdock soberly notes. "Which means I need to make the most of this time."

Murdock has already made a significant impact on his students' lives. His department values "diversity, equity, inclusion and access in all areas," and that inclusive, encompassing philosophy extends to his entire attitude about music education. To hear Murdock tell it, music education is not a means to an end to get a grade, but a lifelong pursuit that extends to all corners of one’s lived experience.

Read on for an interview with Jeffrey Murdock in which he looks back at his educational roots, which teachers inspired him at a young age and why music education is far larger than the four walls of a classroom.

Congrats on receiving the 2021 Music Educator Award (MEA)! Take us back to the moment when you learned the news. How did you learn the news? And what was your reaction?

​Thanks so much! I remember clearly the day I learned the news. A phone call was scheduled with Harvey Mason jr. and I was expecting the phone call to actually be an interview of sorts. Mr. Mason called me as scheduled and got straight to the point, telling me that I had been selected as the 2021 GRAMMY Music Educator Of The Year! 

I was speechless for a few seconds, I thanked him, and I hung up the phone. Then I ran and told my wife, who immediately started crying, at which point it sank in for the first time that I had actually won! Even now, it still feels a bit surreal, but I've begun to embrace the excitement of it all. 

I realize that the 2022 candidate is already being selected, which means I need to make the most of this time, so that's where my focus lies at the moment!

Tell us a little bit about your school, your music program and your students. What are they like? What do you teach? What do your students enjoy about your school's music program? 

I teach at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Our campus is the main campus of the U of A System and the flagship school of the State of Arkansas. The Department of Music is housed within the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Our music program offers degrees in performance, music education, general arts (Bachelor of Arts) and graduate degrees in performance and music education. Our students come mostly from Arkansas and the surrounding states. 

Our program is quite progressive in the way it has embraced the tenets of diversity, equity, inclusion and access in all areas, including our audition process and the way we approach applied lessons, thereby creating space for students of diverse cultural and musical backgrounds. Students feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed in our department. 

What's the school system like in Fayetteville, Arkansas? Do students have a lot of opportunities for music education? If so, tell us a little more about said options. If not, what can you do to change that?

The school systems in Fayetteville (Fayetteville Public Schools) and in the Northwest Arkansas area are home to many phenomenal music teachers. Some of the very best teachers in the country - (like MeMe Hagers) are teaching in our elementary schools.  All of our middle and high school band and choir programs are thriving, with highly qualified music teachers like Terry Hicks, Gretchen Watt, and Michael Crouch at the helm. As a music educator at the university level, I spend quite a bit of time visiting the schools, working with teachers, working with my music education colleagues at the U of A to provide professional development, and service opportunities for teachers in our service area.

As a music educator yourself, I'm sure you've had teachers and fellow educators who made an impact on your interest in music education. Who were some of the teachers and folks who taught you the value of music education? What sorts of lessons and values did you learn from them?

My first music teacher was my piano teacher, Bernard McDaniel. My first public school music educators were Mrs. Felicia Cooper (my middle school choir director) and Mr. Bill Crowell (my high school choir director). Mrs. Cooper, in particular, was impactful to me because seeing a Black woman as a choral director allowed me to see myself in my current position. The way in which she nurtured every student and taught so much more than music was not lost on me.

Additionally, she gave me opportunities to accompany the choirs, conduct various pieces and assume leadership roles, even as a pre-teen. These opportunities early on shaped my musical development and forged the trajectory that led me to this point. 

I learned music, I learned character, I learned perseverance, I learned responsibility. I learned all of those things through participating in ensembles throughout middle school and high school, from music educators who were passionate about their craft.

Why is music education so important to you? And why should everyday people care about music education? What does music education offer to students that they may not be able to learn in traditional lessons and schooling?

When I speak of music education and those who engage in music-making, I typically prefer the term "learners" as opposed to students. This is because access to high-quality music education is not limited to students in an educational setting. Music education happens in the home. It happens in the community. It happens in religious gatherings. And all persons who are willing to participate in the learning process should be given the space and opportunity to do so. 

Music changed my life. It is important to me because music can speak to people and situations that are inaccessible with mere spoken or written words. Music is everywhere, and as such, people engage with music on many levels and in so many spaces. The everyday person should care about music education because, no matter how one engages with music, the music that is being engaged was created by someone who, at some point, had a mentor, or a music educator who helped them hone the skills to create art that is consumed by the masses.

Music education is not limited to the "traditional" or "formal" way of teaching and learning. Limiting music as such excludes a majority of our world from the music-making process, and this is unacceptable. In schools, the music educator frequently touches the lives of the learners more frequently than a teacher of a core subject such as math or history.

As such, music educators have a unique opportunity to shape the lives of learners over multiple years, creating a safe space for learning, for creating, and for engaging. Music education unlocks a level of creativity that, which tapped, can offer a new perspective when engaging with other areas of academia.

What advice would you give to young students now who are interested in pursuing a career in music performance, the music industry or music education?

The sky is the limit! There are so many careers that have music at it's core, and there are myriad opportunities in which people can engage in the process of music-making. Take a chance. If you are passionate about music, you should be doing music. The feeling of creating something beautiful through music is one of the most rewarding experiences in life, and I'm thankful that I live a life that is full of those rewarding experiences on a regular basis.

Now that you’ve been awarded the MEA, what do you hope to do to enhance music education in your school and your city? ​

My passion lies in leveling the field of music education such that every learner, every day, has access to high-quality music education each day, no matter who the learner is, where the learner is from, what the learner's socioeconomic status is or any other marker.

I intend to spend more time in schools, spend more time with stakeholders, and championing music education in the community, while also creating space for every music learner at a table where everyone feels safe to be their best and most authentic musical selves.

The Recording Academy And GRAMMY Museum Name Jeffrey Murdock As The Recipient Of The 2021 Music Educator Award

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum
Ryan Lewis, Zach Quillen and Macklemore

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/


Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take Over The GRAMMY Museum

Hip-hop duo discuss their career beginnings and creating their GRAMMY-nominated album The Heist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Current seven-time GRAMMY nominees Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, along with their manager Zach Quillen, recently participated in an installment of the GRAMMY Museum's A Conversation With series. Before an intimate audience at the Museum's Clive Davis Theater, the hip-hop duo and Quillen discussed the beginning of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' career, having creative control over their work and recording their GRAMMY-nominated Album Of The Year, The Heist.

"I met somebody [who] had the same dedication as me, [who] put everything into the music, everything into the craft," said Ben Haggerty (aka Macklemore) regarding meeting Lewis. "I wanted a career and Ryan was somebody [who] had the same discipline and sacrificed everything."

"I think it took a little while before it became clear to me who [Macklemore] was going to be," said Lewis. "I think the first indication of that was with the song 'Otherside' from the VS. Redux EP]. … That song … embodied so much. It was a story nobody was telling. … It was just somebody who was dying to be on the mike and to say something."

Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and DJ/producer Lewis have been making music fans take notice since they released their debut EP, 2009's The VS. EP. They followed with VS. Redux, which reached No. 7 on the iTunes Hip-Hop chart. The duo made waves in 2011 with the release of their hit single "Can't Hold Us" featuring Ray Dalton. The next year Macklemore was featured on the cover of XXL Magazine's coveted freshman class issue, and Rolling Stone dubbed the duo an "indie rags-to-riches" success story.

Released in 2012, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' debut studio album, The Heist, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the No. 1 hits "Can't Hold Us" and "Thrift Shop," the latter of which reached multi-platinum status and remained on top of the charts for six weeks. The album garnered a nomination for Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album at the 56th GRAMMY Awards, while "Thrift Shop" earned a nod for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. The duo's Top 20 hit "Same Love" featuring Mary Lambert earned a nomination for Song Of The Year and has been adopted by some as a pro-equality anthem. The duo garnered additional nominations for Best New Artist and Best Music Video for "Can't Hold Us."

Upcoming GRAMMY Museum events include Icons Of The Music Industry: Ken Ehrlich (Jan. 14) and A Conversation With Peter Guralnick (Jan. 15).

Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The Ventures


Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2019 - 01:44 am

Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago. 

The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums. 

“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."

Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater. 

"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."

The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum

2020 GRAMMY Awards: Complete Nominees List

Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Scott Goldman and Julia Michaels

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/


Julia Michaels Deconstructs "Issues," Writing Songs | "Required Listening" Podcast

Go inside the bright mind of one of pop's most promising singer/songwriters and learn about her songwriting process, her transition to the spotlight and the three female artists she admires

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2018 - 11:57 pm

Julia Michaels' career has soared within the past year. Already a talented songwriter with writing credits such as Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran, and Fifth Harmony to her name, Michaels took a leap of faith with the release of her third solo EP, 2017's Nervous System.

Listen Now: "Required Listening," Episode 3 With Julia Michaels

Though Michaels has admitted to being nervous about moving to the forefront as an artist in her own right, the gamble paid off. The single "Issues" went gangbusters all the way to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and her EP cracked the Top 50. Plus, the Davenport, Iowa, native scored two nominations for the 60th GRAMMY Awards: Song Of The Year for "Issues" and Best New Artist.

What makes Michaels tick musically, how did she overcome her trepidation and why does she rely on feelings to guide her songwriting?

You'll learn the answers and so much more on the latest episode of "Required Listening," the new music podcast by HowStuffWorks and the GRAMMY Museum in partnership with the Recording Academy.

"It depends on the person. A lot of the times I'll just talk to them [first]," said Michaels regarding collaborating with other artists. "I mean we're all human. We all cry the same. We all bleed the same. So I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible to be able to tell me things, even if the artist that I'm with doesn't write, just having them talk is lyrics in itself. You know, them explaining their day or expressing how they feel. It's like, "That's amazing ... if that's how you're feeling we should write that.'"

As a matter of fact, Michaels told the host of "Required Listening," GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Scott Goldman, that she lets her feelings pilot her songwriting instead of traditional conventions — a process that has yielded gems such as "Issues."

"I'm not that calculated when I write," said Michaels. "I'm all heart when I write so I don't think about the algorithm of a song or the mathematics of a song. I just think, 'This feels good to me,' and just kind of go with that."

When peppered by Goldman with a question about coming into the limelight as a recording artist, Michaels was quick to point out that she has benefitted from plenty of help and encouragement.

"I think a lot of people have helped me get there," said Michaels. "My manager, Beka Tischker, she's been with me for six years. She's always believed in me. … And this year a lot of people have come into my life. I mean even my band — Dan Kanter, who's my guitar player … he's been with me since the beginning of the artist transition. I can't even do it without him at this point. ... There's a lot of people in my life, especially this year, that have made me feel comfortable and confident."

Speaking of confidence, Michaels has taken cues from plenty of her self-assured peers. She cited three artists, in particular, who have inspired her career path.

"I'm not that calculated when I write. I'm all heart." — Julia Michaels

"[Pink is] a bad*," said Michaels. "I love Fiona Apple. I love a lot of artists that are not afraid to say what they want to say. I love artists that write their own music. Laura Marling — she's very much from her point of view, very much whatever she wants to do. And plus her voice is so haunting and beautiful."

"Required Listening" launched on GRAMMY Sunday, Jan. 28, with the first episode featuring an in-depth conversation with GRAMMY winners Imagine Dragons and the second detailing "The Defiant Ones" with Allen Hughes and Jimmy Iovine.

Future guests will include Sean "Diddy" Combs, Dan Auerbach, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, and Lindsey Buckingham and Christie McVie of Fleetwood Mac, among others.

Attention Music Fans: Take The GRAMMY Challenge Now On Kik And Facebook Messenger

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons


ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"