Most Influential

Most Influential, Education: Quinton Morris

Artist, educator

By Rachel Gallaher February 27, 2024

Quinton Morris

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

On March 30, 2023, violinist, educator, and nonprofit founder Dr. Quinton Morris stood on stage at Boston’s Westin Copley Place hotel as someone placed an orange-ribboned gold medal around his neck. Along with three other former students from the Berklee College of Music, Morris — who graduated with a Master of Music in Violin from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in 2004 — was being recognized at the school’s annual alumni achievement awards.

A prestigious distinction, the award is only given to one former conservatory student each year. Later that night, after celebrating with his mother and mentors, Morris returned to his hotel room, ready to call it a night.

“I checked my email, and I discovered that I had received a professorship,” Morris recalls. “The whole night felt like a big, full-circle moment.”

For Morris, the director of chamber and instrumental music and professor of violin at Seattle University, the professorship wasn’t just another step in his career — it was a historic moment. Morris, who grew up in Renton, is only the second living African American violinist to receive a tenured professorship in United States history. The first recipient was the University of Colorado Denver professor of violin, Gregory T.S. Walker, the son of George Walker. The latter was the first Black composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize in music for his work, “Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra.”

Quinton with a student

Courtesy of Quinton Morris

“The professorship didn’t start until the new academic year,” Morris says, “so I don’t think it really hit me until I came back to campus.”

Aside from the 16 years Morris has taught at Seattle University (the past seven of which were tenured), the full professorship process took seven months. After Morris applied in September 2022, his application went through an intense series of reviews, traveling through levels including a committee of department peers, the department chair, the university’s dean, provost, and president, and then the school’s board of directors. Response letters are written at each level and passed along with the application.

“You basically write a book about yourself and everything you’ve done since receiving tenure,” Morris says. “It’s a lot of waiting for an answer.”

Aside from his academic accomplishments, Morris’ application included a long list of performance highlights and accolades: He has played three times to sold-out audiences in Weill Recital Hall at New York’s Carnegie Hall and, starting in 2015, embarked on a two-year world tour that had him perform in more than 40 cities on five different continents, and he has received recognition including the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award, the Washington State Governor’s Arts Award, the Pathfinder Award from Phi Beta Kappa, and the Distinguished Studio Teacher Award from the Washington State Chapter of the American String Teachers Association.

Morris is also the founder and executive director of Key to Change, a nonprofit providing music instruction to underserved youth and students of color.

A group of Mr. Morris’ students

Courtesy of Quinton Morris

“I’m from Renton, and that’s where our office is,” Morris says. “Key to Change is a great way for me to give back to the community that gave me so much as I was growing up. Many students in that area don’t have access to this specific type of mentorship and music education, so this is an opportunity to provide that.”

Founded in 2017, Key to Change offers high-level, affordable music instruction through a violin studio in South King County that serves middle and high school students. Most are from underserved backgrounds. The organization provides needs-based scholarships majority-funded through individual donations (more than 90% of participating students receive some form of scholarship support). Aside from improving their musical chops, students come away with performance experience and life skills such as leadership, time management, professionalism, and confidence. Hundreds of kids have passed through the organization, many of whom have gone on to attend competitive schools.

“I just had three students make their professional debuts with Seattle Symphony,” Morris says of an October 2023 performance, “and in (September) they played for first lady Jill Biden. I’m committed to educating and helping students transform their lives through Key to Change. My goal is to expand the program to reach more students and have a deeper impact on my community through building Key to Change.”

Follow Us

Movers & Shakers

Movers & Shakers

Profiling the people who shaped Seattle

Back in April 1968, Seattle magazine published a feature similar to our Most Influential issue, focusing on those who "truly call the shots."

Most Influential, Sports: Kalen Deboer

Most Influential, Sports: Kalen Deboer

Former University of Washington football coach

He started out small, leading Sioux Falls to three NAIA championships in his five years as head coach. He then worked his way up the NCAA food chain with stops at Southern Illinois and Western Michigan... Photo by Scott Eklund / Redbox Pictures

Most Influential, Arts: Shin Yu Pai

Most Influential, Arts: Shin Yu Pai

Poet, author, podcaster

Pai is an award-winning author, podcaster, and the city of Seattle’s 2023-24 Civic Poet. She has spent more than two decades in the literary field, penning 13 books... Photo by Sung Park

Most Influential, Arts: Jose Iñiguez

Most Influential, Arts: Jose Iñiguez

Educator, musician

Jose Iñiguez discovered the art of opera through a PBS special. As a teenager, he came across a program featuring a tenor singing an aria while watching TV with his dad... Photo by Ashley Genevieve