Verna Gillis is a free-lance producer with a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology.
She was Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College (1974-1980) and at Carnegie Mellon (1988-1990).
Between 1972 and 1978 she traveled to Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Iran, where she recorded traditional music. To date 27 of her recordings are available on Smithsonian Folkways and Lyrichord.
In 1971 she started a not-for-profit organization for public art projects called American International Sculptors Symposiums (AISS) which organized public art exhibitions including the first sculptures on the Vermont Interstate.
In 1974 she developed POETRY IN PUBLIC PLACES, as a special project of AISS which placed one poem per month in 1200 buses throughout the state of New York. This continued for 5ive years, won many awards and inspired similar projects around the country.
Gillis opened SOUNDSCAPE, the first multi-cultural music performance space in New York City, which she programmed and directed from 1979 – 1984.
SOUNDSCAPE presented the richness and variety of all forms of music from traditional to jazz and encouraged experimentation and collaboration among musicians.
She produced and developed the career of the great Cuban percussionist, Daniel Ponce who performed regularly at SOUNDSCAPE.
SOUNDSCAPE was the first US presenter of African Pop music in 1983 with the US premiere performance of King Sunny Ade from Nigeria, which was heralded by Robert Palmer of The New York Times as “the pop event of the decade.”
Nine LIVE FROM SOUNDSCAPE CD’s have been released on the DIW label and distributed worldwide. In 1994, Bob Blumenthal of CD Review wrote about the 1981 Interpretations of Monk concert: “This magnificent afternoon and evening of music was the inspired conception of SOUNDSCAPE producer Verna Gillis. It took nearly 13 years to see commercial release, but now we have the concert in its entirety, and as a tribute to Monk it is untouchable.”
The entire SOUNDSCAPE library of nearly 500 audiotapes has been received and catalogued by WKCR and many are available to listen to on the WKCR/SOUNDSCAPE website.
When SOUNDSCAPE closed in 1984, Gillis became involved with career development and management of musicians who had not yet penetrated the consciousness and market place outside of their communities. These artists include Youssou Ndour from Senegal; Yomo Toro from Puerto Rico; Salif Keita form Mali; and Carlinhos Brown from Brazil.
Ms. Gillis was hired as a consultant to the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1995 on the production of a CD, as the result of a trip to areas in Africa that had been ravaged by wars of ethnic cleansing: Angola, Liberia, Kenya and South Africa.
She has produced commercial CD’s for artists Daniel Ponce, Yomo Toro, Salif Keita, and Roswell Rudd, her present collaborator.
In early 2002, she produced a 24-track CD of world music selections for Holt Rinehart and Winston to accompany a geography text that was published in 2003.
She has been writing for the last 8 years and more recently started participating in performances based on telling personal stories. “Aging is my new niche.” She says!
Gillis is the “imaginator” of KICK BUTT BALL – Squeeze Me – Get a Grip! – a new stress release ball – She is featured in the senior version of the video on that website.
Verna has published a book of one-liners I JUST WANT TO BE INVITED – I PROMISE NOT TO COME available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.