campus news

UB violinist Melissa White wins second Grammy

Melissa White smiles exuberantly while holding the grammy she recently won.

Melissa White holds a Grammy Award at the ceremony on Sunday in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Melissa White  


Published February 9, 2024

“At the end of the day, we as artists do what we do because there’s a fire burning inside of us, and we have to let it out — we don’t do it for the award. ”
Melissa White, professor
Department of Music

The 66th annual Grammy Awards will always be a memorable one for violinist and UB faculty member Melissa White. White, along with her colleagues in the Harlem Quartet and the New York-based wind quintet Imani Winds, won a Grammy for “Passion for Bach and Coltrane,” a work arranged and composed by Jeffrey Scott, who will join the UB music faculty this coming fall.

“It all feels surreal and it’s just incredibly exciting,” White, professor of music, told UBNow after Sunday’s Grammy ceremony. “It’s an honor that my music moved people enough to want to nominate me for a Grammy, and then vote for our project to win.”

The Grammy win was in the category of Best Classical Compendium. The recording is a collection of original arrangements and newly composed music tying together the work of legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach and mid-20th-century jazz great John Coltrane.

“The inspiration for the recording was the writing of poet A.B. Spellman,” White explained. “Jeff Scott (a former horn player with Imani Winds) was gifted a book of poetry by A.B. and was immediately moved to compose the piece, entitled ‘Passion for Bach and Coltrane.’”

White and the Harlem Quartet won their first Grammy 11 years ago for the song “Mozart Goes Dancing” on the album “Hot House.” For that first Grammy win, the quartet collaborated on “Hot House” with jazz innovators Gary Burton and the late Chick Corea. Even though this is White’s second Grammy win, it was the first time she was able to join the festivities in person.

Members of the Harlem Quartet pose together at the Grammy awards.

Winners of the Grammy Award in the category of "Best Classical Compendium" for "Passion For Bach and Coltrane" pose in the press room during the ceremony on Feb. 4 at Arena in Los Angeles. Pictured are, from left, Jaime Amador, Ilmar Gavilán, UB's Melissa White, Edward Perez, Jeff Scott, Felix Umansky, A.B. Spellman, Alex Brown, Monica Ellis, Mark Dover, Kevin Newton and Brandon Patrick George. Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

“This was our first time attending any part of the Grammys and it was extremely inspiring to be surrounded by so many of the top artists in their fields,” she said. “This is also the first Grammy statue that I will receive with my name on it, so this win is extra special!”

White said the event was incredibly “fun and energetic,” and she hopes her experience and the recognition it brings might benefit students and other artists.

“On a professional level, winning two Grammys means that new doors may open, and new opportunities might become available for me to be able to share my art with even more people around the world,” she said. “It also means that I might be able to open new doors for others and offer opportunities for younger artists to grow themselves.”

Eric Huebner, a pianist and chair of the Department of Music, said he was ecstatic about White’s Grammy win and the recognition of her tremendous talent and commitment to her craft.

“Melissa’s Grammy win is a tribute to all the years of hard work and dedication she has put into the violin, and with the Harlem Quartet — a group she helped found,” Huebner said. “It is also a testament to a profound creative vision, which has led her to engage in numerous artistic collaborations over the years, including this one with Jeff Scott and the Imani Winds.”

How it all began

Growing up in Lansing, Michigan, White became enamored with the violin when she was only 4 years old, thanks to an episode of “Sesame Street” that featured Itzhak Perlman.

“I loved the way his chin fit perfectly in the chin rest of the violin,” White recalled in a previous interview with UBNow. "So, watching him play, 4-year-old me was thinking that this is the best instrument for a person to play because you can rest your chin on it perfectly, and when the show went off, I asked my mom if I could then play the violin, and she did not say yes, but she also didn’t say no."

“So, I begged for two years and finally, when I was 6, she got me a violin, and that's how I got started,” White said. 

White’s journey from that little girl fascinated by the violin to a two-time Grammy-award winner has taken her all over the world — multiple times. She has had return engagements with several national and international philharmonics and orchestras. In 2022, she made history by serving as the concertmaster of the Recollective Orchestra, the first all-Black orchestra to perform on stage at the Hollywood Bowl. The occasion, which aired live on CNN, was a Juneteenth program presented by the LA Philharmonic to mark the bowl’s centenary. She has also performed alongside several pop artists, including Pharrell, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill.

“I think the Grammys allow for artists’ work to be highlighted and celebrated,” White said. “At the end of the day, we as artists do what we do because there’s a fire burning inside of us, and we have to let it out — we don’t do it for the award. But it is nice to feel seen/heard and to be recognized for the endless work that we put into our craft. The Grammys give major visibility to artists.” 

Grammy winning performers coming to UB

The Grammy-winning performers involved in “Passion for Bach and Coltrane” are coming to Buffalo in April 25, 2025, to perform in Slee Hall, and composer Jeff Scott will join the UB faculty in fall 2024.

“Jeff is a fantastic horn player and composer, and we are thrilled for his Grammy win,” Huebner said. “I believe that it also serves as a significant and important validation of the investment our department and the university have made in these two outstanding musicians.”