Oral History Interview with Carolyn Wanzo on September 2, 2020

Oral History Interview with Carolyn Wanzo on September 2, 2020



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Wanzo, Carolyn


Dhul-Qarnayn, Ismaeel; Perkins, Dr. Alisa (Research Director)


Oral history interview with Carolyn Wanzo conducted by Ismaeel Dhul-Qarnayn on September 2, 2020. Interview written by Ismaeel Dhul-Qarnayn and Dr. Alisa Perkins (Research Director). Wanzo was born in 1945 in Detroit, Michigan, to parents who had moved to Detroit from Selma, Alabama. Wanzo was raised as a Baptist, and has fond memories of singing in the church choir with her siblings. After graduating from Cass Technical High School, Wanzo attended Wayne State University, double majoring in psychology and sociology. As a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, she then obtained a Master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University. From there, Wanzo served as one of the few African American social workers at Taylor Public Schools in metro Detroit. Over the course of her life, Wanzo pursued many other social work positions, including those where she helped coordinate housing and education opportunities for adults in need. Wanzo was married to Melvin “Mel” Wanzo (1930-2005), a prominent Detroit-based Muslim jazz musician who was an associate of Malcolm X. Mel Wanzo played for the Count Basie Orchestra and The Glenn Miller Orchestra, and collaborated with greats such as Art Blakey and Duke Ellington. In the interview, Wanzo stresses the importance that Mel Wanzo placed on mentoring younger musicians, especially those studying jazz at Wayne State University. In 2003, Wanzo and her husband created the Carolyn and Mel Wanzo Endowment at Wayne State to support students majoring or minoring in Jazz Studies. In the interview, Wanzo discusses what she has learned from a lifetime of education, dedication, and leadership in the field of social work. Wanzo also explores what it was like to travel the world with her husband on musical tours. She reflects the role that Islam played in Mel Wanzo’s life, detailing how his Muslim identity and values inspired his philanthropy. She also discusses how Mel Wanzo and other African American Muslims delivered powerful social and political messages through jazz.

Date of Interview


Location of Interview

Detroit, MI (Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center)


36th District Army Band, Activism, Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, Adult education, Affirmative action, African-American history, African-American Muslims, Alabama, Alaska, Muhammad Ali, Ann Arbor, Africa, Ralphe Armstrong, Baptist Christianity, Art Blakey, Block parties, Canada, Carnegie Hall, Ron Carter, Cass Mosque, Cass Technical High School, Ray Charles, Chicago, Church choir, Civil service, Clayton Brothers Quintet, Cleveland, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cobo Hall, Cozy Cole, Community development, Count Basie Orchestra, Department of Human Services, Detroit, Detroit Jazz Festival, Detroit Public Schools, Diversity, Doo-wop, Drumming, Ecorse, Educational planning placement, Imam Abdullah Bey El-Amin, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Entrepreneurship, Europe, Excel Corporation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Ferndale, Public Schools, Greg Fields, File clerk, ‘The Final Call’, Financial aid, Ella Fitzgerald, Ford Motor Company, Ford River Rouge Plant, Frank Foster, France, Franklin Street, Fruit of Islam (FOI), Gas station, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Grammy Awards, The Great Migration, Gretchen Valade Foundation, Group homes, Hajj, Hillberry Theatre, Holland American Line, Hope Team, Housing projects, Bill Hughes, Idlewild, Interracial relations, Islam, Islam in America, Islamic pilgrimage, Japan, Jazz cruise, Jazz music, Tom Jones, Lafayette Street, Land contract, Las Vegas, Le Meridien Hotel, London, Los Angeles International Airport, Moms Mabley, Malcolm X, Junior Mance, Marcus Garvey Society, Master's of Social Work, MCM Grand, Michigan, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, Motown, Muhammad Mel Wanzo Halal Jazz Café, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Music lessons, Muslim Americans, The Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center, Muslim community, Muslims, Nation of Islam, Neighborhood relations, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, New York, Nontraditional student, Johnny O'Neill, Ohio, Paris, Houston Person, Phi Beta Kappa, Piano lessons, Plymouth Center for Human Development, Property specialist, Psychology, Queen Elizabeth II, Racial equity in employment, Ramadan, Royal Albert Hall, San Francisco, Self-taught musician, Selma, Frank Sinatra, Skilled trades, Slide trombone, Social work, Sociology, Southwest Detroit, Supper Club, David Syme, Taylor, Taylor Public Schools, The Pips, The Rhinoceros, Toledo, Trumpet, Joe Turner, Valve trombone, Melvin Wanzo, Warren, Wayne State Jazz Lab Band, Wayne State University, Welding, West Park, Joe Williams, Sonny Wilson


African American Studies | Africana Studies | American Studies | Civic and Community Engagement | Digital Humanities | Inequality and Stratification | Islamic Studies | Music Performance | Nonprofit Administration and Management | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Religion | Urban Studies and Planning


Interview conducted by Ismaeel Dhul-Qarnayn at the Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center. Interview written by Ismaeel Dhul-Qarnayn and Dr. Alisa Perkins (Research Director). Videography by Ayesha Cook, facilitated by Tasneem Joseph. Video Edited by: Jayden Sibley. Transcribed by: Jillian Glasser. Transcription edited by: Dr. Alisa Perkins. Metadata prepared by: Tristan Draper. Metadata edited by: Dr. Alisa Perkins and Sophia Wimberley.



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Dream of Detroit Interviews were made possible by funding from the Pillars Grant and Whiting Foundation. Content is for educational purposes only and non-reproducible; interviews are not to be duplicated, but may be linked through ScholarWorks with appropriate attribution. Please direct any questions about copyright to scholarworks@wmich.edu.


Pillars Fund and Whiting Foundation


Dream of Detroit

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Oral History Interview with Carolyn Wanzo on September 2, 2020