When Ward Robinson, MD, retired, he turned to a different challenge: music.
As an infectious disease expert, Robinson served for two decades at Moses Cone Health System and five years as medical director for the Guilford County Department of Public Health.
“I was trying to find ways for each individual within our community to have a healthier and longer life,” he said of his medical career. “At retirement I thought: ‘What now might bring them joy?'”
So, he plays tenor and soprano saxophone and loves the challenge of performing jazz. Along the never-ending quest to be a better musician, Robinson was delighted to find the UNC Greensboro Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program. He joined it as a student in the Fall of 2015, at age 62.
Inspired by and grateful for his experience with the outstanding students and faculty, he established the Robinson Family Scholarship Endowment at UNCG in 2017. Each year, the scholarship is presented to an entering undergraduate jazz student and provides four years of full-tuition support.
The first Robinson Family Scholar, Liam Trawick, will graduate this spring.
On a recent Wednesday evening, Robinson and sophomore Roland Burnot were on an outdoor stage together, taking turns on sax solos for Stanley Turrentine’s blues standard “Sugar.” Burnot is also a Robinson Family Scholar. The weekly event at Double Oaks B&B, similar to one on Thursdays at Oden Brewing, always features many Spartans and draws jazz aficionados from throughout the area. The sweet sounds of upright bass, percussion, keyboard, saxophones, and various other instruments fill the spring air.
This year brings a new gift from Robinson: He has created the Robinson Family Fund in Jazz Studies.
This fund will sponsor a diverse array of visiting artists to perform, teach, and mentor students. Among other activities, the fund will provide support for the students to teach and perform in the Triad community – including in middle schools and high schools.
“I just want to support a program that’s given me such joy,” Robinson said.
“Ward’s transformational gift to the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program will bring legendary jazz artists to campus for residences over the next decade and will indelibly enrich the educational experiences of our students,” said Dr. bruce d. mcclung, dean of UNCG’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.
“I just want to support a program that’s given me such joy.”Ward Robinson, MD
Robinson is a UNCG alumnus in two ways. He received his master’s in public health from the UNCG School of Health and Human Sciences in 2010, and was an adjunct professor in the UNCG Department of Public Health Education. In the School of Music, he received his post-baccalaureate certificate in 2019.
“Ward Robinson embodies the great spirit of our Spartan alumni donors. He has said that a gift to UNCG goes a tremendously long way. It’s an investment in our students’ lives and in the arts that enhance our lives, and that spirit of generosity is a beautiful thing,” said Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., a guitarist and long-time jazz enthusiast.
Robinson added, “The jazz students I’ve had the pleasure to meet are outstanding. I am honored to be able to support such talent at UNCG. But … selfishly, I get to see and hear these amazing musicians perform – and they even let me jam with them from time to time.”
By Mike Harris
Photography by Martin W. Kane