St. Louis Arts Awards
St. Louis Arts Awards honoree spotlight: Gene Dobbs Bradford
9 January, 2018
Each January, the Arts and Education Council (A&E) presents the St. Louis Arts Awards, an inspiring evening honoring the artists, educators, philanthropists, corporate citizens and arts organizations whose outstanding contributions to our cultural community make St. Louis such a vibrant place to live, learn, work and play. Since 1992, the St. Louis Arts Awards has celebrated more than 170 honorees and raised more than $7.2 million to benefit A&E's annual campaign, which supports nearly 100 arts organizations in the bi-state region. This year's sold-out St. Louis Arts Awards will honor seven extraordinary individuals and organizations, including Gene Dobbs Bradford, president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis (an A&E grantee), for Excellence in the Arts.
As a student studying double bass performance at Eastman School of Music, Gene Dobbs Bradford was living the good life, performing with friends in Kid Kramer and the Pressure Cookers and the Crawling King Snakes, when something clicked.
“I realized I was having just as much fun promoting and organizing the performances as I was playing,” Bradford remembered.
So he applied for and was accepted to a prestigious fellowship with the League of American Symphony Orchestras which took him all over the country. “It was then that I knew I could make it in the orchestra world,” he said.
After the fellowship, Bradford worked for the Honolulu Symphony before returning to his hometown of Columbia, Maryland, and eventually, finding his way to St. Louis where he served as director of operations at the St. Louis Symphony.
Then, in 1999, Bradford was approached to lead what was then Jazz at the Bistro, after the organization's founder, Barbara Rose, passed away.
“It was an opportunity to build something from the ground up,” said Bradford. “It could be whatever you could imagine.”
He first focused on how to strengthen the organizaton, now known as Jazz St. Louis, within in the community.
“We had to show people why we were worthy of their support,” Bradford said. “I remember thinking it would take three or four years,” he added with a chuckle.
Now entering his twentieth season with Jazz St. Louis, Bradford has transformed the organization into a leading jazz institution, named one of the country’s 10 great jazz clubs by Wynton Marsalis in USA Today. Under Bradford’s leadership, Jazz St. Louis’ programming has grown to include mainstage performances and expansive education and outreach efforts throughout the city.
He has also guided Jazz St. Louis in new collaborations, including “Champion,” an original opera about a gay, welterweight boxer presented in partnership with Opera Theatre of St. Louis that played at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in March 2017.
Bradford also leads Webster University’s arts leadership and management program, training the next generation of arts leaders. In addition to that bachelor’s degree from Eastman School of Music, he holds an MBA from Washington University.