George T. Wein, Newport jazz and folk festivals co-founder, dies at 95

GEORGE T. WEIN, co-founder of the Newport Folk and Jazz festivals, died Monday at the age of 95. / COURTESY JOHN ABBOTT
GEORGE T. WEIN, co-founder of the Newport folk and jazz festivals, died Monday at the age of 95. / COURTESY JOHN ABBOTT

NEWPORT – George T. Wein, the musician and philanthropist who co-founded the Newport folk and jazz festivals and brought the events to international prominence, died Monday in his sleep at the age of 95, the festivals announced.

Born in Newton, Mass., in 1925, Wein played in various jazz bands around Boston while attending Newton High School, according to the festivals. After graduating Boston University in 1950, Wein, then 25, opened his own jazz club in Boston, Storyville, that featured new and top jazz artists.

The festivals said that Wein’s life changed in 1954 when he met Louis and Elaine Lorillard, Newport socialites who asked him to create an event to liven up summers in the city. From there, the Newport Jazz Festival was born, a worldwide event that would attract legendary jazz artists, such as Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett over the years.

Five years later, in 1959, Wein created the Newport Folk Festival to attract the biggest acts in blues and folk. It was the folk festival where Bob Dylan in 1965 played an electric guitar for the first time in public.

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In 2008, Wein established and became chairman of the Newport Festivals Foundation, a nonprofit that operates the two festivals. The foundation, the festivals said, began a program to send its jazz assembly band to schools, giving more than 35,000 students access to jazz music. The festivals added the Newport Festivals Foundation also provides instruments to schools, free content for music educators, financial relief to hundreds of musicians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and presented over 100 grants for music education programs across the country.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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