Obituary: Phyllis Garland / Journalism professor at Columbia University

Died Nov. 9, 2006

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In 1981, Phyllis Garland became the first African American and first woman to earn tenure at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

She loved jazz, ballet and soul music and believed deeply in the power of the arts. She taught her students to cover them as thoroughly as they would city hall.

Ms. Garland, a native of McKeesport, died Wednesday of complications of cancer at Calvary Hospice in Brooklyn. She was 71.

In the classroom, she was known for her tough, but laid-back style.

Her students called her Phyl. She lived in an Eighth Avenue apartment in Greenwich Village and, every year she invited her class to a listening party, sharing music from her huge jazz collection.

But more than anything, said Diane Solway, a student of Ms. Garland's in the 1980s, she wanted to show students they could become arts journalists. Ms. Solway, an instructor at Columbia, now teaches the cultural affairs reporting class that was initiated by Ms. Garland.

Twenty years later, she still remembers her teacher's tenacity.

"When I did my thesis on the School of the American Ballet, she wanted more detail," said Ms. Solway. "She said 'go to performances, dig deep' and then she helped me find tickets."

She believed that the arts were not the step-child of journalism, said Ms. Solway, and that the arts needed to be researched and reported as much as sewer commissions or school boards.

Ms. Garland went to Columbia University in 1973 after working as an assistant professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she had been acting chairwoman of the Black Studies department.

At Columbia, she earned tenure in 1981, the first black person on the journalism faculty to do so.

At Columbia, Ms. Garland initiated a course on cultural affairs reporting and taught how to cover issues of race, gender and sexual orientation.

She also administered the National Arts Journalism Program, a fellowship that brought professional journalists to New York to study and write about performing arts.

In 1998, Ms. Garland earned an honorary doctorate of human letters from Point Park University, where she was a frequent guest lecturer.

In 1969, she wrote the book "The Sound of Soul," on the history of black music. In 1989, she was a writer on the documentary film "Adam Clayton Powell."

In the mid-1950s, she began her career covering the celebrity beat at Ebony Magazine, the glitzy lifestyle journal of black-owned Johnson Publications. The gig allowed her to befriend many of jazz's legendary figures and she became chummy with many of the artists.

Wynton Marsalis, the internationally acclaimed trumpeter, often visited her classroom. He called her in late June as she recuperated in the hospice.

Raised in a middle-class section of McKeesport, she was the daughter of Percy Garland, one of the first blacks to pursue a career in industrial photography, and Hazel Garland, who was the first female editor in chief of the Pittsburgh Courier when it was the most widely circulated black paper in the nation.

Ms. Garland graduated from McKeesport High School in 1953 and was a charter member of that school's Hall of Fame in 1987.

After high school she went to college at Northwestern University, graduating in 1957.

In Chicago, she strengthened her journalism roots at Ebony Magazine and did some graduate study before following in her mother's footsteps and working as editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Courier from 1958 to 1965.

In a January column, her friend E.R. Shipp, said that Ms. Garland lamented the decay of black culture.

"Black people treasured their cultural and educational institutions and the only support available was from black people. Now, not only is there more selfishness and greed, but a contempt for intellect and no respect for art."

A funeral is scheduled for Nov. 18, 2006 at 5 p.m. at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 716 Walnut St., McKeesport and the service will be open to the public. Columbia University Journalism School is planning a memorial in the spring.


Correction/Clarification: (Published Nov. 15, 2006) The funeral service for Phyllis Garland will be open to the public. This obituary as originally published Nov. 10, 2006 said the 5 p.m. service Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 716 Walnut St., McKeesport, would be private.

Ervin Dyer can be reached at edyer@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1410.


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