Wendy Oxenhorn

Executive Director

Wendy Oxenhorn

Wendy Oxenhorn (a.k.a. The Barefoot Baroness) is the Executive Director of the Jazz Foundation of America, co-founder of Street News and a blues harmonica player. At the age of 14, Wendy moved on her own to New York City, where she attended the School of American Ballet and danced with New York City Ballet. At 17, a career-ending knee injury threw her into a severe depression, prompting Wendy to call a suicide hotline. She found herself consoling the counselor on the line, who was herself depressed… Wendy started working at the suicide hotline three days later, beginning her career in the humanitarian arena. Her first venture was a volunteer group that took children of homeless families to places they could never go, like the ballet, circus, opera and movies, to give them a chance to see there was another world than the one they were being offered. In 1990, Oxenhorn co-founded the newspaper, STREETNEWS, which provided immediate employment and income for a homeless workforce. Oxenhorn recruited Fortune 500 CEOs and celebrities, built the infrastructure, and did the fundraising for the organization, gaining coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Herald Tribune. Talk show appearances include Regis and Kathy Lee, CBS Nightline, TODAY Show, and others. She recruited supporters like Malcolm Forbes, Cyndi Lauper, Clive Davis, Ben & Jerry, Tom Mosser, New York Times President Lance Primis, and then White House Chief of Staff, John H. Sununu. At its peak, STREETNEWS employed over 2000 homeless men and women in New York City and had a circulation that equaled the Village Voice. It is credited with being the first homeless-sold newspaper sold, inspiring as many as 150 like-papers in major cities throughout the world. In 1994, Ms. Oxenhorn started a Board of Education approved public school program called Children of Substance, a support group that helped middle school girls cope with drug addicted and alcoholic parents. These children suffered from Bulimia, depression, incest & suicide attempts. In 1999, after a heartbreaking love affair with an Italian composer, she picked up a harmonica and started to play the blues, as she no longer called suicide hotlines. Within six months she was playing with an elderly Mississippi blues man in the New York City subway stations and quit her day job to play blues full-time. This experience, together with her non-profit background, led to her current position. In 2000, Wendy became the Executive Director of the Jazz Foundation of America, (JFA) which provides assistance to elder legendary jazz and blues musicians in need. She was the sole employee at the time she was hired, and JFA had $7,000 in the bank and helped 35 musicians a year. Oxenhorn created and produced their first annual gala, "A Great Night In Harlem" at the Apollo Theater, made possible with the initial bankroll for the Theatre costs from Jarrett Lilien, the first concert raised $350,000. This allowed them to help 300 musicians.  The concert featured performances by 100 jazz legends, including Ahmad Jamal, Little Jimmy Scott, Hank Jones, Abbey Lincoln, Odetta, Chris Anderson, Roy Haynes, The Heath Brothers, George Wein, George Benson, Norah Jones and many more. The organization attracted prominent board and committee members, including Quincy Jones, Richard Parsons, Elvis Costello, Danny Glover, Michael Novogratz and Lou Reed. By 2004, JFA had become a national organization. Wendy quickly expanded the foundation's operations and built an organization with a $3 million annual budget. And her annual concert has raised over 26 million dollars. The Jazz Foundation’s partnership with Dr.Forte & Englewood Hospital & Medical Center has provided $7 million dollars of pro bono medical care & operations to 1000 uninsured musicians as well.   Wendy’s efforts included intensive post-Katrina relief efforts. When the hurricane hit, hundreds of New Orleans musicians and their families were herded onto buses without their belongings. They were forced to leave family pets behind without food and were bussed to many other states. Wendy traveled to Louisiana two weeks after Katrina. Oxenhorn and her staff of three, worked day and night for two years, paying rents and re-housing over 1000 musicians, and their families, many with small children, thanks to a fund from E*TRADE through Jarrett Lilien. Within weeks after the Flood, Wendy secured over a quarter million dollars of new horns, upright basses, pianos and drums, which had been donated to replace what was lost or destroyed, this included getting a piano to Fats Domino; who was so happy when they delivered it, he made them put it down in his driveway and he played Blueberry Hill for them. The hurricane expanded the organization’s caseload from 500 to over 1500 musicians in crisis, and the Foundation's efforts are credited with re-housing and bringing over 1000 stranded musician families back to New Orleans. Three weeks after the storm, she organized an employment program that grew to over 500 displaced musicians in over twenty four states so that they could pay their new rents by performing for children in public schools. And thanks to the late Great Saint Agnes Varis, this effort became the life-saving Agnes Varis Jazz in the Schools Program, which to this day keeps 150 elder New Orleans musicians afloat ten years later. It also employs over 120 elders in NYC and around the country who are too old or too ill to tour anymore, giving them dignified work so they can pay their own rent, while passing on their history, education and introducing live jazz to thousands of public school children across the country. (This program will need a new “Patron Saint” as of this year.) In the course of her Directorship, Wendy along with her Jazz Foundation Family of dedicated staff including Alisa Hafkin, Joe Petrucelli,  Daryl Dunbar, Petr Verner, and its Board of Directors and Saints like Jarrett Lilien, Agnes Varis, Michael Novogratz, Quincy Jones, Lauren Roberts, Danny Glover, Dick Parsons, Geoffrey Menin Hank O’Neal, Bob Opatrny, and many others, have been able to assist 3,500 individual musicians and provide solutions to over 40,000 moments of crisis, saving the homes and lives of thousands of legends, healing situations with Love and dignified creative solutions. Ms. Oxenhorn was recently voted onto the Board of the Montreux Jazz Festival's Artists Foundation in Switzerland. She is the first woman and the first American member.

See All Boards & Committees

Related Content

  • A Great Night in Harlem
  • Learn more about the Jazz Foundation's Annual Evening Gala at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Related Content

     

Related Content

  • Press
  • Learn about the programs and assistance the Jazz Foundation offers.

Video

Hear and see what JFA's Chairwoman has to say.

Watch Video

Jazz Foundation of America · 322 West 48th Street, 6th Floor · New York, NY 10036 · (212)245-3999 · info@jazzfoundation.org
Privacy Policy/SiteCredits · Donate · An MSDS site