Davey Yarborough (1953- )

Davey Yarborough
Davey Yarborough
Courtesy of Sharon Farmer

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Composer, conductor, flutist, saxophonist, and pedagogic Davey Yarborough was born in 1953 in Washington, DC. He attended Paul and Rabaut Junior High Schools, and in 1971, Yarborough graduated from Coolidge Senior High School in the city. Afterward, he enrolled in the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education. He also earned a Master of Music from Howard University School of Music in Washington, DC. He concentrated on the performance of Flutes, Clarinets, and Saxophones.

Yarborough has also played with jazz legends Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne, and Joe Williams. He has also collaborated with Wynton Marsalis, performing on Marsalis’ Making the Music series on National Public Radio (NPR).

In 1986, Yarborough created the New Washingtonians, the jazz orchestra at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts. From 1988 to 1991, Yarborough’s distinctive sax sound was part of the background music for the NBC sitcom The Cosby Show. In 1998, Yarborough Co-founded the Washington Jazz Arts Institute, building on the extensive legacy of artistry, education, and mentoring in the District of Columbia.

Yarborough has performed internationally, including at the San Remo, North Sea, and Montreux jazz festivals. He appeared solo on numerous recordings, including Ronnie Wells’s Live at Montpelier and harpist Jeff Major’s New Age Soul and Sacred. He has also recorded several albums with pianist Hilton Felton, including It’s Time for Love, Covington, Seals and Yarborough, Beautiful Friendship, and Lovetones. Yarborough collaborated with Sir Roland Hanna in a compilation of new compositions for Jazz Mont Records, and he produced recordings of Duke Ellington’s music that coincided with Ellington’s 100th birthday in April 1999. That work led to the album Royal Essence: An Evening of Ellington. In 2005, Yarborough appeared at the Kennedy Center with the Davey Yarborough Sextet.

Yarborough is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including two coveted “Mayor’s Arts Award” in Washington, DC, for Excellence and Dedication to the Arts and Education and the “Whitney M. Young, Jr. Community Service Award” from the Greater Washington Urban League for his work with students and within his community. He also received a “DC Emancipation Day Image Award” and the DC Youth Orchestra’s “Distinguished Alumni Award.” Yarborough was named “Jazz Educator of the Year” by the Berklee Conservatory and was a semi-finalist in the Grammy’s “Music Educator of the Year” award. He received the Benny Golson Jazz Masters Award given to distinguished Howard University jazz alumni and the Kennedy Center’s Stephen Sondheim “Inspirational Teacher” award. In 2017, Yarborough was inducted into the Washington, DC Hall of Fame, and the following year, in 2018, he was installed in the Downbeat Magazine Jazz Educator Hall of Fame.

In 2019, Davey Yarborough retired from Duke Ellington School of the Arts after 40 years of service as a jazz educator. He is married to Esther Williams. They are the parents of Davie Celeste Yarborough, a student in the Doctoral program at the University of Hawaii focusing on Educational Psychology.