Psychologist Dr. James Condell and his wife biologist Dr. Yvonne Condell came to teach at Moorhead State College (now Minnesota State University Moorhead) in 1965. Dr. Yvonne Condell recalls there being only one other African American resident of Moorhead at that time, the other being a military recruiter. It did allow her to brag, however, that the average level of education for African Americans in Moorhead was PhD.
Both Dr. James and Dr. Yvonne Condell played important roles in encouraging Moorhead State’s efforts to recruit diverse students and faculty, and also in mentoring those students once they got here. And in addition to his accomplishments in the Social Sciences and Academia, James Condell was also a world class musician.
James Condell played his first gig at the age of just 14 in Louisville, KY. His skill playing piano got him a scholarship at HBCU, or known as an historically black college or university. Kentucky State College, but since the college band already had a piano player, he took up a new instrument: the guitar. He also began studying psychology and sociology.
He served with the US Army Air Corps during WWII and, after the war, he played in a nightclub’s house band in Nashville. After about a year of being a professional musician, he decided to make a career in Academia. He received further education at Columbia, New York University, and the University of Nebraska. While teaching at Florida A & M, he met his wife, biologist Yvonne Condell. In 1956, the two moved north, first to Grand Forks and then to Fergus Falls where Yvonne taught at the community college and James helped kids at the Lakeland Mental Health Association. In 1958, he became the first African American member of Rotary International in Fergus Falls, and as far as he knew, in the whole USA.
Missing the school environment, both James and Yvonne Condell took jobs teaching in Moorhead. He served as Professor of Psychology for the next 27 years, including 10 as the head of the department, and was a Diplomate of the American Psychological Association, but he never gave up music.
Dr. Condell formed and performed in bands across the region and hosted popular public radio jazz programs. Dr. Condell even learned Spanish so he could study Classical guitar at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid. He gained regional recognition as a jazz guitarist, a classical guitarist, an arranger of music, and a jazz scholar. Dr. Condell passed away in 1998, two weeks after playing his final gig.
After his passing, Dr. Yvonne Condell donated her husband’s extensive collection of recordings to the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Most are recordings of his radio shows, but among the hours and hours of tape are recordings of concerts he performed. With the permission of the University of Missouri – Kansas City and Dr. Yvonne Condell, we are pleased to share this October 23, 1994, concert of the James Condell Trio performed at the Seven Seas in Mandan, North Dakota.
Dr. James Condell's Jazz Night will take place at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead on March 14, 2023, 5-7pm.
Local jazz musicians will perform selections of Condell’s arrangements while playing with Condell's guitars. From 5-6pm, jazz music will provide background while people go through the Ralph's exhibit in which Condell's music is featured. From 6-7pm will be presentation of the music with the jazz historical context provided between numbers.