Dr. Maurice M. Martinez, a longtime professor at the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington who was also a force on the port city’s cultural scene, died on Monday, September 12. He was 88 years old.

Martinez was an educator by trade and an artist by temperament: a published poet who organized slam sessions and recited his work at community meetings; an award-winning photographer and filmmaker who has presented several documentaries at the Wilmington Cucalorus Film Festival and the NC Black Film Festival; and a musician with a deep knowledge and love for jazz.

Dr. Maurice Martinez poses at UNCW's Watson School of Education in 2006.

Dr. Candace Thompson, chair of UNCW’s Department of Educational Technology, Foundations and Secondary Education, emailed Watson College on Wednesday to announce the death of her colleague.

“We have lost a bright light in Watson with the passing of Dr. Maurice Martinez,” Thompson wrote. “He was an instigator… good trouble, moving, funny, self-reliant, generous and a man full of art with a discerning eye for history and a full-throated love for the present and the future.

UNCW professor Maurice Martinez helps a student during one of his education classes in 2009.

“Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing Maurice feel the void he left in this world. We can rest easy knowing that Maurice fought the good fight every day through his art – writing, documentary, poetry and jazz, through his teaching, and through his ways of speaking the truth. As a black woman at this college, I was nurtured, protected, and emboldened by Maurice’s care and wisdom. I will miss him. I celebrate it, always.

Dr. Maurice Martinez, professor at UNCW, in 2009.

Maurice Manuel Martinez Jr. was born in the 7th arrondissement of New Orleans in 1934, and he carried the culture of the city with him his entire life. According an article by Wilmington novelist Wiley Cash that appeared in Raleigh’s Walter Magazine last year, Martinez began taking photos while a student at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. In the early 1960s he was touring gigs of jazz luminaries such as John Coltrane.

Last year, the Genesis Block Gallery in Wilmington presented an exhibition of photographs by Martinez titled “A Time Capsule in Jazz.”

After earning a master’s degree in education from the University of Michigan, Martinez returned to New Orleans and taught for eight years in public schools. Martinez’s mother, Mildred Bernard Martinez, was renowned for starting ta first preschool and kindergarten for black children in Louisiana. Martinez Kindergarten opened in New Orleans in 1934 and would count jazz great Wynton Marsalis, New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, and Atlanta Mayor and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young among its students.

Dr. Maurice Martinez, professor at UNCW, in 2009.

Returning to Michigan to earn her doctorate in education, Martinez met the one who would become his wife of nearly 50 years.

“We’ve had a fabulous life together,” Marjorie Lu Martinez said, noting that she and her husband celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary in 2021. “He was a Renaissance man, that’s how he was. we called him.”

After earning his doctorate, Martinez spent two years in Brazil on a Ford Foundation fellowship, doing field research and playing in a jazz band as part of a US Embassy-sponsored concert tour. United States. He spent 24 years as a professor of education at Hunter College in New York, where, among other accomplishments, he helped organize jazz concerts at Lincoln Center and elsewhere, including shows with Wynton Marsalis.

Martinez came to work at UNCW in the 1990s. He spent 19 years there, retiring in 2014.

Maurice Martinez at a poetry reading in the early 2000s at Paleo Sun (where Bourbon Street is now) in downtown Wilmington

Upon arriving in Wilmington, Martinez, well known for his quick wit, engaging smile and upbeat personality, was deeply immersed in the port city’s cultural scene. He organized and participated in poetry readings throughout the city, including at UNCW and the former Water Street restaurant. In nearly 20 films, he documented both life in his native New Orleans and in southeastern North Carolinaoften focusing on people who tended to be otherwise overlooked.

His 1976 film “The Black Indians of New Orleans,” one of the first works to document the origins and rituals of the Black Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, screened at film festivals around the world. Filmmaker Spike Lee used some of Martinez’s footage in Lee’s 2006 Hurricane Katrina film, “When the Levees Broke.”

In 2006, Martinez’s documentary on the living conditions of migrant workers was screened at the Watson School. His short doc “Irene”, about a Pender County woman who grew up poor but made it in the U.S. Navy, screened at Cucalorus. Cucalorus also screened his sweet and moving short film “1st Grade Wisdom: What’s Inside of Me,” which put the thoughts of children at Wilmington’s Winter Park Elementary School to a jazzy score and united Martinez’s passions for music. education, cinema and jazz.

Maurice M. Martinez, professor at UNCW's Watson College of Education, left, and Grenoldo Frazier, pianist in 2013 at the Cameron Art Museum.  Martinez produced and directed a documentary about Frazier titled

In 2014, Martinez won second place at the North Carolina Black Film Festival in Wilmington for “The Piano Entertainer: ‘Stompin’ Grenoldo Frazier,” a documentary about his friend and the Wilmington musical legend. Frazier, who died in 2018, had a style encompassing New Orleans jazz and blues that was undoubtedly close to Martinez’s heart.

After retiring, Martinez, who taught until he was nearly 80, remained active in Wilmington’s cultural affairs. A member of the board of directors of the Cucalorus Film Festival, he was often called upon to present films as a kind of “opening act”.

“He was telling stories or reciting one of his poems,” said friend and colleague Roberta Penn. “Maurice was just a natural in front of a crowd, whether in a movie theater, a nightclub or at a party. His experiences were so rich that there was always a wealth of life to draw from.”

In 2017, a review of the Cucalorus festival in Filmmaker magazine recalled that Martinez, “aka Marty Most, gave a sprawling and illuminating introduction to the roots of the blues, ending up playing some music on the pipe of a gas stove. .”

Maurice M. Martinez, a professor at UNCW's Watson College of Education, watches pianist Grenoldo Frazier perform in 2013 at the Cameron Art Museum.

In 2001, Penn and Martinez worked together on “North Carolina Blue Notes”, a series about North Carolina-born blues and jazz musicians broadcast on public radio stations in the state. Penn was the writer and producer and Martinez the cultural consultant and narrator.

In Cash’s story for Walter Magazine, Martinez claimed to be the first person to play electric bass in New Orleans, called himself New Orleans’ first poet, and said he was the first published writer to call New Orleans “The Big Easy” in print. Martinez also wrote an autobiography called “BLACKCREOLE”.

Survivors include his wife; two sons, Maurice Miles Martinez and Torin Joseph Martinez; one sister, Josepha Weston; and several grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

A traditional jazz funeral is scheduled for October 15 at Corpus Christi Church in New Orleans. The family will receive guests, whom they will invite to speak about Martinez’s life, from 6 to 10 p.m. on October 14 at the Rhodes Funeral Home in New Orleans.

Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or [email protected]