Coordinator of Contemporary,
Urban and Popular Music
Right around the time Gary Yerkins was finishing his Bachelor of Music in Composition at the American Conservatory of Music in 1981, he saw Patty Smith live at the Park West in Chicago and everything changed. He realized that his true passion must be tied to the unique spirit of the music he grew up with, and in the freewheeling, raucous community and essential energy that this music expressed.
With a handful of freshly minted songs under his belt and a still-developing artistic voice, Yerkins got his first record deal, formed his first band, dove into the thriving Chicago music scene and hasn’t looked back.
As principle singer/songwriter for the Insiders (1985-1996), Yerkins’ music has received both critical acclaim and media play. The Insiders first CD for EPIC/Sony in 1987 yielded top-10 singles on the radio charts, and heavy rotation on MTV as well as international radio and video outlets. Subsequent releases on the indy Monsterdisc label received similar acclaim. His songs have appeared in several feature films and his voice featured on a number of TV commercials. His most recent CD, Compass, was released in 2009.
In 2005, in partnership with Columbia Music Department faculty, staff, students and industry professionals, he began developing the curriculum that would eventually become the Contemporary, Urban and Popular Music (CUP) program. Launched in 2008, the CUP team has developed exciting and innovative approaches to teaching and learning Popular Music, and has created classes, ensembles, residencies and workshops led by high-level practicing musicians and notable guest artists. The program represents a laboratory for students where they can find their own voice and arm themselves with the unique set of skills and experiences to prepare them for the professional world.