Leaving Detroit in 1979, Bill Banfield came to Boston to pursue an undergraduate degree in Jazz studies, working with Mic Goodrick. He received his Bachelor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University and a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition from the University of Michigan. His formal composition studies were under T.J Anderson, George Russell, Theodore Antoniou, Bill Bolcolm, and Bill Albright.
Bill taught in the Boston public schools as a full time music teacher from 1980-1988, also working as director of music studies programs at Tanglewood for the Boston symphony and several Boston neighborhoods education and arts programs, including YADI (Young Artists Dev, Inc.), which he founded.
Banfield served as Professor, director of Africana Studies/Center, Berklee College of Music. He taught in the college from 2005 until his retirement in 2020, as the college recently named him Professor Emeritus, founding director of Black Music Culture Studies, for his service to the institution.
Previously he served as the Endowed Chair Humanities, Fine Arts, professor of Music, director of American Cultural Studies/Jazz, Popular, World Music Studies, University of St. Thomas, MN (1997-2005), assistant professor, African American Studies/Music, Indiana University (1992-1997) where he developed the Undine Smith Moore Collection of Scores and Manuscripts of Black Composers.
In 2002, he was as a W.E.B. Dubois fellow at Harvard university and was appointed by Toni Morrison to serve as the visiting Atelier Professor, Princeton University, 2003.
Dr. Cornel West has called him “one of the last grand Renaissance men in our time..a towering artist, exemplary educator, rigorous scholar, courageous freedom fighter..” and Henry Louis Gates wrote of him, “Bill Banfield is one of the most original voices on the scene today… he tunes us in to the conversation happening worldwide between the notes of contemporary musical culture..”
Having served three times as a Pulitzer Prize judge in American music (2010/2016/ 2020), Banfield is an award winning composer whose symphonies, operas, chamber works have been performed and recorded by major symphonies across the country including; the National, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Dallas, Akron, Detroit, New York Virtuoso, Grand Rapids, Akron, Richmond, Toledo, Savannah, Chicago Symphonia, Indianapolis, Sphinx, Sacramento, San Diego symphonies.
Recently Banfield was appointed as a research associate at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH), one of the Smithsonian’s 12 research and cultural centers.
He has authored 6 books on music, arts and cultural criticism, history and biographies, covering everything from contemporary Black composers to Ornette Coleman, Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar; Landscapes in Color: Conversations With Black American Composers (2002), Black Notes: Essays Of A Musician Writing In A Post Album Age (2004), Cultural Codes: Makings Of A Black Music Philosophy (2010, Scarecrow Press), Representing Black Music Culture (2011), Ethnomusicologizing: Essays On Music In a The New Paradigms and Pat Patrick: American Musician and Cultural Visionary (Scarecrow Press).
Bill Banfield is founder/director of JazzUrbane, a contemporary jazz art recording label, dedicated to producing creative new artists. The seminal project released in 2014, was produced by legendary icon George Duke, and included such leading artists as Christian Scott, Terri Lyne Carrington, Najee, Greg Osby, and Grace Kelly. The label has already produced and released 8 albums now heard internationally. Noted jazz writer and critic Bob Blumenthal wrote, “The imagination from which this ensemble’s music springs belongs to Bill Banfield. It knows no borders, be they stylistic, historic, ethnic or age-related. It views music as the common ground upon which all of us can meet, and celebrate…. Banfield’s original compositions and arrangements of well-chosen standards is nothing short of alchemical, as he tends the shared roots of jazz ….While his perspective rarely stands still, there is no feeling of mash-up. Everything and everyone flows…..That is what happens when music tests our imagination. Listen and hear where the Imagine Orchestra leads you.”
In 2010, Banfield was hired by Quincy Jones to write a national music curriculum and book for public schools.