As Washington DC welcomes the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial — and with “The Help” now dominating at the box office — Americans are reflecting upon the nation’s turbulent racial history, MLK’s contributions to the civil rights movement, and life under segregation. For author Renatta DeBlase, these events seem like yesterday. In the late 1960’s, she was a young white college student from the suburbs who fell in love with the uniquely African-American music emanating from the hip jazz clubs of New York. Soon, she was a valued insider in that world, fighting to bring the music of jazz pianist Billy Taylor and the hugely influential Duke Ellington to audiences, no matter what the color.

Along the way, Renatta DeBlase faced prejudice from both white and black audiences, music executives, and concert industry insiders — all the while developing close working relationships with music legends including Ellington and Taylor. She sees Martin Luther King, Jr. as a major influence behind her civil rights work as a university student, a publishing professional, tutor to minority children, and jazz insider.

DeBlase is now pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of these musical masters and those turbulent times in her book “WITH STARS IN MY EYES” ( Released in May 2011, WITH STARS IN MY EYES is narrated with warmth by the author, now a retired veteran of both the music and publishing industry based in Washington DC.

Says DeBlase: “After the passing of Billy Taylor, I read a quote from him that he was very concerned that he wouldn’t be remembered for his contribution to music. I just couldn’t let that happen; Billy gave so much of himself to his audiences around the world, that I felt I had to do my part to keep his legacy alive.”

Ask Renatta:

— How she saw the effects of segregation firsthand, even in Northern cities
— How MLK and other leaders inspired her efforts
— Why the MLK Memorial is an important addition to Washington DC
— What specifically inspired her about Duke Ellington and Billy Taylor
— Why racial differences didn’t stand in the way of her becoming a jazz insider
— Why she chose to donate proceeds to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Renatta DeBlase has most recently appeared on “Morning Edition” WNCW Ashville NC, in Washington DC’s Street Sense, and on All proceeds from the sale of WITH STARS IN MY EYES will be donated to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. Founded in 1974, it is the only DC public high school that provides professional arts training and college preparation to talented public school students. To request an interview with Renatta DeBlase, contact Will Bower at or 202-365-2536.

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