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Film by Grand Rapids native to air on PBS

  • GVSU Distinguished Alumnus Dante James

Posted on January 29, 2010

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A performance-driven documentary about the jazz age in Paris, directed by a Grand Valley State University alumnus, will be aired nationally on public television stations in February, in conjunction with Black History Month.

Locally, WGVU-TV will air the documentary on Sunday, February 7, at 10 p.m., with an encore broadcast on Saturday, February 11, at 2 a.m.

"Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story," was first aired in August 2009, as part of the Great Performances series on the New York public media company's WNET station. Directed by Dante J. James, an Emmy Award-winning independent filmmaker, with performance sequences directed by Olivier Simmonet, the documentary was inspired by historian William A. Shack's book by the same title.

Both tell the story a varied group of African American musicians and entrepreneurs who brought jazz music to Paris during the period between the two world wars. Utilizing rare archival material from both France and the U.S., the documentary features the stories and music of James Reese Europe, Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, and more.

James graduated from Ottawa Hills High School, earned a bachelor's degree in arts and media from Grand Valley in 1976 and got his start as a producer for five years at what was then Grand Valley's new public service station, WGVC, now WGVU. In 1994 he received the university's Distinguished Alumnus Award and was the Commencement speaker in December 2007, when he received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

James received many additional awards for his later work at WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., including honors for production of a documentary on opera singer Marian Anderson, as well as "Politics - the New Black Power." His four-part series, "Slavery and the Making of America," produced with the PBS affiliate WNET-TV in New York, won an Emmy.

The documentary has been selected to compete in the prestigious Festival International de Programmes Audio Visuels (FIPA), Festival International du film sur l'art (FIFA), and invited to compete in the France Noire - Black France Film Festival.

For more information about the program, visit, or

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