Stella Marrs (1927-2020)

Dr. Stella Santerineross Marrs was born in 1927 in South Carolina. In 1949 she launched a successful career in music as a jazz singer, producer, and actress. She was Lionel Hampton’s “girl singer” for four years and worked with a host of legendary musicians, one of whom gave her moniker “Ms. Soft Soul.” She won two Apollo Amateur Night competitions in the 1960s; recorded albums; and became the first female DJ at WRVR Radio in Memphis and WNJR Radio in Newark, New Jersey. She wrote, produced, and directed her biography, “I A Black Woman” and was an ardent writer of essays and prose on both music and civil rights.

         Dr. Marrs was a lifelong civil rights activist. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, participating in the 1963 March on Washington that witnessed Dr. Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech. “We're not minorities; we're all priorities,” she told a diversity panel at SUNY Rockland-RCC on the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the NAACP. Dr. Marrs was inducted into the Rockland County Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2003.

         From 1980 to 1986, Dr. Marrs was a project director for the Rockland Community Action Council, an antipoverty agency. She also worked as a community liaison for the Rockland County Human Rights Commission for many years. In 1986, she became the executive director and chief executive of the Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center; her two-decade tenure ushered in an expansion of its mission, programs, and physical space. “No one dared say ‘No’ to Dr. Stella Marrs," the center’s Board of Directors stated on her passing earlier this year. “Her motto was, ‘The impossible only takes a little longer.’” Dr. Marrs's constant goal, said Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell, was “to make the world a better and more just place for all people."

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