Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘One of a kind’ poet, DJ and jazz scholar Reuben Jackson dies at 67

A man looks into the camera
Reuben Jackson was the host of the weekly music program Friday Night Jazz at then-Vermont Public Radio from 2012 to 2018.

Poet, radio DJ, jazz scholar, music critic and teacher Reuben Jackson died on Friday morning, following a recent stroke. He was 67.

Jackson was born in Georgia and raised in Washington, D.C., where he lived at the time of his death. But his Vermont connections ran deep, starting with his time as an undergrad at Goddard College and continuing through his years hosting Friday Night Jazz at then-Vermont Public Radio. He maintained deep friendships across the state after moving back to D.C. The Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier even named its take on the reuben sandwich after him.

Jackson moved to Plainfield in the late 1970s to study writing at Goddard College. He got his first gig in radio at Goddard’s college station WGDR.

“He was one of the first DJs there,” recalled Llu Mulvaney-Stanak, the station manager at WGDR, now known as Central Vermont Community Radio. They remember seeing photos of Jackson with “this huge grin,” surrounded by vinyl in the old music library.

“I’m like, 'oh, that’s that origin of him finally hitting one of his first loves of his life, which is radio,'” they said.

Mulvaney-Stanak said Jackson had a certain “magic” that drew people to him.

“When he is with you, it just feels like time stops, and you’re just right there having that experience together,” they said. “He’s just one of a kind.”

Jackson was the host of the weekly music program Friday Night Jazz at then-Vermont Public Radio from 2012 to 2018. He had a deep, velvety radio voice “with a laugh that would wake up a room,” said Peter Engisch, an engineer at Vermont Public who worked closely with Jackson. “His love for jazz was matched by his love for poetry, and it really showed on air.”

Engisch remembers Jackson as "a bit mischievous," especially when he would sneak Jimi Hendrix and Earth, Wind & Fire songs into his jazz broadcasts.

He was also a deeply caring and sentimental person who “wore his heart on his sleeve 24/7,” Engisch said.

Jackson had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz music and culture, which he put to good use in numerous other professional roles over the years. At the time of his death, Jackson was an archivist with the University of the District of Columbia's Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives. He was also a DJ at WFPW 89.3 FM. He served as the curator of the Smithsonian's Duke Ellington Collection from 1989-2009.

Jackson’s Friday Night Jazz recordings are included in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.

He continued to make appearances on Vermont Public in the years following his departure from the station. Most recently, he joined Vermont Edition in October to memorialize the former Vermont poet laureate Louise Glück. She was one of his professors at Goddard College.

He was also featured in a 2022 episode of Brave Little State exploring why people leave the Green Mountain State. He opened up about why he made the difficult decision to leave Vermont and move back to D.C.

“It's an uppercase paradox, for sure,” he told Brave Little State, “but it is a home of mine. So much of my family of choice is in Vermont. It is probably, in that sense, more of a home than D.C. is for me.”

Vermont felt like home, but it was also a fraught place for Jackson, a Black man.

“I think institutional racism in Vermont is deeply, deeply dug in,” he said on Brave Little State.

Many of Jackson’s friends and former colleagues remember him as a person who enjoyed sharing his passions with others — especially jazz and poetry.

He worked for years as a mentor with the Young Writers Project, a Burlington-based nonprofit that supports teen writers and artists.

“He was able to bring alive kids that were really kind of forgotten kids or kids that were really struggling in some way,” said Geoff Gevalt, the founder of the Young Writers Project and the former managing editor of the Burlington Free Press.

Gevalt recalled when Jackson started working at Burlington High School, where he taught for two years in the late 2000s.

“His classes had kids who were not doing well,” Gevalt said. “And what those kids produced in those classes was just remarkable. He is able to give people the confidence to find their voice.”

Jackson was also a published poet and music critic. His music reviews have appeared in the Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Jazz Times and on NPR’s All Things Considered.

His first volume of poetry, fingering the keys, was published in 1991. Most recently, his poetry was included in This Is The Honey: An Anthology of Contemporary Black Poets, an anthology edited by Kwame Alexander and published last month.

“I think what he did for me, and probably what he did for others, was teach them introspection,” said Molly Stone, the artistic director at Catamount Arts and Jackson’s close friend. “Just looking at life as if it were poetry, and living in that way as well.”

Stone said she and Jackson would talk every day. They considered each other chosen family.

She said one of Jackson’s greatest concerns was the way in which American society handles grief and mourning. They discussed the topic often.

“He had a real strong feeling about the grieving process, and how it would unfold in ways you couldn't predict,” Stone said. When she learned of the severity of his stroke, she knew she wanted to ask something of the many others who loved him.

“Think about the grieving process, and hold him in their hearts and minds longer than the culture forces us to move on,” she said. “If anything, I think that he would want to know that people love him and think about him and honor him long past this transition to a new place for him.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Latest Stories