Writer, historian, broadcaster. Born William Royal Stokes on June 27, 1930 in Washington, D.C.; died May 1, 2021 in Elkins, West Virginia.
He attended Woodrow Wilson High School and then University of Maryland before serving in the U.S. Army. He then attended the University of Washington (BA, 1958, MA, 1960), and completed his formal education with a Ph.D. in Classics in 1965 from Yale University. He then taught Greek and Latin languages and literature and ancient history at the University of Pittsburgh, Brock University (Ontario), Tufts University, and the University of Colorado (1968-69), before deciding to change careers. As he put it, “I decided to devote myself to another area of classical expression, namely, the art form of jazz.”
Stokes originally planned to undertake an academic study of jazz history at the University of Chicago, but after returning to his hometown in late 1970, he decided to stay and for the next few years worked in a variety of positions. He began hosting weekly radio programs titled “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say…” and “Since Minton’s” on Georgetown University’s WGTB-FM (1972-1979) and then on WPFW-FM (to 1987). He also served as program director for WGTB-FM.
His earliest jazz writing appeared in the Potomac River Jazz Club’s Tailgate Ramblings. He also contributed to Radio Free Jazz (later Jazz Times), The Mississippi Rag, and Down Beat, among many others. From 1979 to 1986, Stokes was the jazz critic for The Washington Post, publishing hundreds of performance reviews. He taught jazz appreciation courses at a variety of Washington institutions, including Mt. Vernon College, the National Parks Service, University of Virginia (Arlington), the Smithsonian Institution, and George Washington University. From 1988 to 1990 he served as editor of Jazz Times magazine. He was co-founder of the Jazz Journalists Association and edited its newsletter (1992-2001). Stokes wrote five books on jazz: The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990 (Oxford University Press, 1991), Swing Era New York: The Jazz Photographs of Charles Peterson (Temple University Press, 1996), Living the Jazz Life: Conversations with Forty Musicians About Their Careers in Jazz (Oxford University Press, 2000), Growing up with Jazz: Twenty-four Musicians Talk About Their Lives and Careers (Oxford University Press, 2005), and The Essential W. Royal Stokes Jazz, Blues, and Beyond Reader (Hannah Books, 2020).
After moving to West Virginia in 2007, he continued to write, working on his memoirs and publishing a trio of novels titled Backwards Over as well as compiling his jazz writings, before his death of myelodysplastic syndrome.
His collection of audio interviews are housed at the Smithsonian Institution; his books, sound recordings, and other materials are housed at the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives at the University of the District of Columbia.