Lead Story Obituaries West Edition

Memorial service planned for Jazz at Drew founder Roland Betts

CARSON — A memorial service will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 8 on the campus of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, 1731 E. 120th St. in Los Angeles, for Roland Hayes Betts, the founder of Jazz at Drew.

A viewing will be held at the Inglewood Mortuary, 3801 W. Manchester Blvd., from 4 to 8 p.m. April 7.

Betts died March 19 at Torrance Memorial Hospital. He was 75.

Born Sept. 11, 1941 in Alton, Illinois to Floyd and Etta Betts as the second child of four, Betts spent his formative years growing up in the city of Chicago, where his father was an original member of the Fruit of Islam and served as a bodyguard for Elijah Muhammad.

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Betts made history by integrating the Quantico Marine Base basketball team as the first African American and non-commissioned officer to join the squad. He later earned a full athletic scholarship for basketball to Pepperdine University in the mid-1960s, when the Pepperdine campus was still in South Los Angeles.

A standout player, he still holds the school’s season and career rebound average records.

Upon graduation, Betts was offered a contract to play basketball professionally for the Washington Bullets. However, he decided to return to Chicago to become an active participant in the civil rights movement under the Rev. Hosea Williams.

In 1971, Betts relocated to Los Angeles, and joined the staff at USC before accepting a position as the community liaison officer with the then Charles R. Drew Postgraduate Medical School.

It was while working for Drew that Betts would meet and married his wife, Cassandra. Together they settled down in Carson, where they raised two sons and a daughter.

It was also during this time that Betts’ commitment to the community and Drew University led him to create Jazz at Drew, a unique collaboration of music and medicine.

Betts would often tell the story of how during the late 1980s and early ’90s, he read a medical journal that described how music had healing properties and that some doctors would even play music while in the operating room.

Serving in a dual role as director of alumni affairs and community relations officer at Drew, Betts collaborated with Aman Kufahamu and Gilda Hagood to launch Jazz at Drew in 1991.

The event grew from an audience of approximately 150 people the first year to accommodate some 10,000 jazz fans annually. With the theme “Building Cultural Bridges Through Music,” Jazz at Drew has honored the legends of jazz, raised critically needed funding to support Drew University and created a happening that the entire Southern California community could be proud of.

He is survived by his wife Ayo, daughter Ayana Betts, sons Jabari Betts and Baraka Betts, 12 grandchildren and a number of nieces and nephews.