Watch CBS News

2021 Grammy Music Educator Award winner Jeffrey Murdock on paying it forward and his "happy place"

Grammy names professor Educator of the Year
University of Arkansas professor Jeffrey Murdock receives Grammy Music Educator of the Year honor 04:52

Jeffrey Murdock, an associate professor of music education at the University of Arkansas, says his passion for music was inspired by mentors and he is dedicated to paying it forward. The Grammys has selected the educator, conductor and leader of two of the university's choruses for the 2021 Grammy Music Educator Award.

The award is presented by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Museum. The organization the Grammy Music Educator Award "recognizes teachers and professors who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of music education and who demonstrate a commitment to the broader cause of maintaining music education in the schools."

Students in the University of Arkansas' inspirational chorale say they value Murdock as a mentor.

"He's honestly like a dad to a lot of people. He's like a big brother to a lot of people. I mean, he's anything that you need him to be in that moment," Dekarius Dawson, told CBS News' Jamie Wax.

Murdock said his life was forever changed due to his mentors who paid for him to learn the piano at a young age.

"So I started out playing piano when I was five years old. And there was a family friend who paid for my piano lessons. Having someone to kind of get that seed planted for me was really meaningful to who I am now," Murdock recalled.

He said if it hadn't been for that family friend stepping in and supporting him at such a young age, his life would have been "a very bleak existence." Murdock grew up in a rough neighborhood in Biloxi, Mississippi.

"I grew up in a part of town where it was not uncommon to see people getting shot and killed right in front of my house, and so I appreciate the village that was around me, that helped me overcome those odds," he said.

That village he speaks about included music teachers who fed his passion and guided him, including the first Black teacher he ever had. The representation of having a Black music teacher at his school is something that Murdock vividly remembers.

"Indeed. Indeed. Absolutely. And I think if it had not been for those musical experiences with African American teachers, I'm not sure that I would have had the same trajectory. I mean, I always say that I wanted to be a meteorologist," he laughed.

Weather's loss is music's gain, and Murdock makes paying it forward a priority. 

"To have a Black professional mentor in the position that he's in, to really take me under his wing, it is just, I'm blessed," one student said.

Another one of Murdock's students said that he is an incredible musician and director. "He goes the extra step in educating us in just life things, educating us how to be good citizens, good peers, good friends, good mentors. And that never stops for him. That's a 24/7 thing."

It's why he not only leads the choirs but also teaches the next generation of music educators.

"As many music teachers as we can keep out there, and as many folks as we can get to continue planting those seeds and giving students those meaningful experiences, I think we're making the world a better place one kid at a time," Murdock said.

Even though he's a college professor, he still makes sure to engage with students of all ages from first grade through high school.

"I've been so passionate about young kids and just students of all ages and lifelong learners that I can't get myself out of the high school classroom, out of the elementary classroom. It's my happy place," Murdock stated.

As for his legacy, Murdock wants to be remembered for the unconditional love he has given his students.

"I hope that if people remember me for one thing only, that they remember that Jeff Murdock loved students. That Jeff Murdock loved students unconditionally and gave them his all," he said.

The 63rd GRAMMY Awards are airing Sunday, March 14, 2021, on CBS.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.