In Kansas City, ‘Duck’ Warner Adds Jazz-Flavored Pomp and Circumstance to Commencement

| June 9, 2014
"Duck" Warner

“Duck” Warner

For more than a decade, Webster University graduates at Webster University’s Kansas City campus location and their families and friends have enjoyed commencements enlivened by the music of local jazz master Lester “Duck” Warner. On stage, Warner leads the singing of the national anthem and offers, in a rich baritone that’s been compared to Nat “King” Cole, a carefully crafted rendition of a jazz classic or popular ballad that never fails to move his audience.

Degrees conferred, graduates head to a reception featuring danceable arrangements by The Warner Project ensemble fronted by Duck on trumpet and valve trombone. Drawn to the music, many linger late into the evening.

Duck grew up with a musical father and grandfather and in a Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood populated by several prominent musicians. His mother was his greatest influence. “She taught me to be myself. Whenever I start to sing I think of her.” Her advice to “live while you can, because tomorrow’s not promised to anyone” is evident in Duck’s cheerful enthusiasm and eagerness to help others. Webster staff members have long been charmed by his unassuming manner and consider him “a model gentleman.”

A Webster University Kansas City tradition is to have "Duck" Warner provide the music.

It is a Webster University Kansas City tradition for local jazz legend  “Duck” Warner liven up the annual commencement ceremony.

After returning from military service in 1968, Duck’s musical career flourished while touring, performing, and recording with Curtis Mayfield, Lou Rawls, Bobbi Humphrey, Helen Reddy and others. He has headlined Japan’s first International Jazz Festival, Kansas City’s Spirit Festival, and the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival, and was voted KC’s Best Male Vocalist three consecutive years. He recently released a CD, “In a Quiet Way.”

The International Trumpet Guild recognized Duck as a veteran of the revered “old school” of KC swing, and Count Basie’s legendary trombonist Benny Powell called him “a premier entertainer.” Prepared to play nearly anything, he sees no point in limiting himself and believes that “somewhere along the line you make everyone happy.”

Happiness and service are central to Duck’s life off the bandstand. He counsels abused children, mentors young musicians, and caught the attention of a Webster faculty member who noticed Duck’s uncommon ability to relate with troubled students at a local alternative school.

Duck is a member of the service group Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz. Warner believes “we should never forget who we are and where we come from.” It’s a philosophy that has served him well.

Commencement at Webster University Worldwide

This year’s Webster Kansas City commencement took place May 21 at the Rose Auditorium. The new graduates join a Webster University alumni community made of more than 172,000 accomplished and connected citizens. See more facts and figures on the worldwide Webster University Class of 2014, in this 2014 infographic.

Webster University’s annual commencement events take place each year at Webster campuses in eight countries on four continents around the world. Some recent highlights:

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Category: Alumni, Campus Snapshots

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