Laura Spencer | KCUR

Laura Spencer

Arts Reporter

Laura Spencer caught the radio bug more than a decade ago when she was asked to read a newscast on the air on her first day volunteering for KOOP, the community radio station in Austin, Texas. 

After moving home to Kansas City, she learned the fine art of editing reel-to-reel tape as an intern and graduate assistant with the nationally syndicated literary program New Letters on the Air. Since 2001, she's focused her efforts on writing and producing feature stories as KCUR's Arts Reporter. 

In 2011, Laura was one of 21 journalists selected for USC Annenberg’s seventh National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater. She's received awards from the Associated Press, Kansas City Art Institute (Excellence in Visual Art and Education), Kansas City Association of Black Journalists, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Radio-Television News Directors Association (regional Edward R. Murrow Award) and Society for Professional Journalists. 

Ways to Connect

Legendary jazz and blues musician Jay "Hootie" McShann died Thursday, December 7 at the age of 90. A pianist, vocalist, composer and big band leader in the 1930s and 40s, McShann was one of the last of a generation who helped create the Kansas City style.

Photo courtesy of the Marr Sound Archives, UMKC

Saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen grew up down the street from Jay McShann. Here, Alaadeen tells a story from his childhood about walking down the street, disobeying his mother to hear McShann play.

Photo courtesy of the Marr Sound Archives, UMKC

Vocalist Myra Taylor also performed in Kansas City in the 1930s and 40s. Here, Taylor tells a story about attending a ceremony at the Jazz Hall of Fame in Tulsa (where McShann received the Lifetime Achievement Award).

Historian Chuck Haddix is the co-author with Frank Driggs of Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop: A History. Here, Haddix talks about how McShann will be remembered.

American Jazz Museum Interim Executive Director Carol Rhodes Dyson has been on the job since former Executive Director Juanita Moore left in September. Rhodes Dyson grew up in Kansas City, just blocks away from the museum.

The Kansas City-based ensemble Aurora Consort is known for its fusion of jazz, world, and classical music. This weekend, the group presents original compositions, as well as traditional music from Iraq.

Photo: Stephen Kunken

original air date: August, 2006

This weekend, the Kansas City Symphony's new assistant conductor Damon Gupton makes his debut. A native of Detroit, Gupton has a background in both music and theatre.

UMKC Marr Sound Archives/Miller Nichols Library

Charlie "Bird" Parker was born on August 29, 1920. Considered a founding figure of bebop, the jazz saxophonist and composer was born in Kansas City, Kansas and raised in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City, MO – Note: Excerpts for this piece were drawn from a tribute recorded in March at City Hall, Kansas City.

A number of Charlie Parker Tributes are planned this weekend including:

Saturday, August 26, 2006:
A jazz jam in honor of Charlie Parker runs from 6 to 8 at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center

Photo: Heart of America Shakespeare Festival

Here, an excerpt from a recent rehearsal of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival's King Henry V hours before the first preview at Southmoreland Park.

Kansas City, MO – The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival is set under the stars in Southmoreland Park, just west of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (47th & Oak St.).

Blues musician Gregory "DC" Bellamy grew up on Chicago's West Side, but he's made Kansas City his home for the past several years.

Orestie "Rusty" Tucker died last week at the age of 80 after a brief illness. A singer, drummer, and trumpeter, Tucker was a member of the Tim Whitmer K-C Express band, and played with a number of other groups in Kansas City. But Tucker was probably best known for his work with the Scamps, a group he joined in the late 1970s. The Scamps are considered Kansas City's version of the New Orleans Preservation Jazz Band.

This weekend, the Bach Aria Soloists present a premiere, which combines classical music with modern dance.

Kansas City, MO – The Bach Aria Soloists is dedicated to presenting the arias from Johann Sebastian Bach's cantata collection, as well as his solo and chamber music. This weekend, they'll branch out into new territory with a collaboration that combines classical music with modern dance.

For the past several months, the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre has been gearing up for a script-in-hand reading of a new play called Whitehorse. The journey a play makes before it reaches a staged production can be a long one, so for a young playwright (Jakob Holder) and a young theatre company, a reading can present a real opportunity.

photo: Laura Spencer/KCUR

Artist Wilbur Niewald, professor emeritus of painting at the Kansas City Art Institute, began his year-long Guggenheim Fellowship on May 1.

Arts Roundup, April 14

Apr 14, 2006

This week, Archie Scott Gobber: Ready or Not is the inaugural exhibit in the Review Studios exhibit space, a local children's boutique presents a rock and roll concert at the RecordBar for parents and their kids, and a show at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art combines popular music and car culture.

Kansas City filmmaker Glenn Stewart talks about her work, Riffs: A Kansas City Jazz Coda. The film was screened as part of this year's 10th annual Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee.

Photo: Dan White

Dan White has documented the jazz scene in Kansas City for more than two decades. A new exhibit in the Changing Gallery at the American Jazz Museum displays 50 of White's black and white photographs, along with anecdotes from interviews.

Vocalist Myra Taylor is a veteran of the original Kansas City swing sound and started out singing and dancing in the early 1930s on 18th and Vine. Throughout her long career, she's shared the stage with Jay McShann, Sarah Vaughan, Nat "King" Cole, and many others. Taylor continues to perform in her hometown often as part of the quartet known as the Wild Women of Kansas City. Myra Taylor turns 89 on Friday, February 24.

Remembering Milt Abel

Feb 12, 2006
Photo: Marr Sound Archives

Jazz bassist and vocalist Milt Abel - part of Kansas City's jazz scene for five decades - died on February 3, 2006 after a long illness. Abel grew up in Philadelphia, where he learned to play the stand-up bass, baritone horn, and trombone as a teenager.

Kansas City, MO – KCUR?s Laura Spencer talked to some of the musicans he played with over the years in Kansas City and others who say his musicial talent will not be forgotten.

Musician and artist Loren Pickford is a veteran of jazz scenes in Los Angeles, Boston, and Paris. Pickford lived in New Orleans from 1990 to 2005, and here shares the story of his first day in the Big Easy.

Kansas City, MO – Pickford and his wife, Sheila, relocated from New Orleans to Kansas City, Missouri after Hurricane Katrina.

Cultural Convention and Visitors Bureau President Anita Dixon says her vision of 12th Street, from the Paseo to Brooklyn, is as an enclave for jazz artists.

A Nutcracker Debut

Dec 20, 2005
Photography by Steve Wilson

Earlier this year, the Kansas City Ballet School offered a weekly ballet class to twenty Latina girls at Gladstone and Primitivo Garcia elementary schools. And five of those girls were cast in this year's production of The Nutcracker, including 5th grader Christina Sayed who's a lead angel.

Kansas City, MO – El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is a Mexican celebration to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honor of those who have departed. The holiday reflects the Mexicans tradition of reacting to death with mourning along with happiness and joy.

One of Kansas City's most respected artists Ken Ferguson passed away in December. In April, a memorial service was held in his honor.

Kansas City, Missouri – Memorial service for Ken Ferguson, Saturday, April 2, 2005 at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main St., Kansas City, Missouri.

Staff Sergeant Michael Argumedo is a U.S. Army Reservist from Lawrence, Kansas stationed in Kuwait, just a few miles from the Iraqi border. He writes under the pen name Mickey Cesar, and his poetry has been described as dealing with "Saturday nights alone, Sunday morning cafes full of cigarette smoke" and loss.