A native of Harlem, Cecil Lytle studied at Oberlin College and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before accepting his first teaching post as assistant professor of music at Grinnell College.
The pianist came to UCSD in 1974 as assistant professor of music. In 1988, after posts as visiting professor at the Beijing Conservatory of Music and a year’s appointment in 1979 as senior Fulbright-Hays scholar to the United Kingdom, he was appointed provost of Third College, which was renamed Thurgood Marshall College in 1993.
What brought you to La Jolla?I came here to accept an appointment as assistant professor of music at UCSD.
What makes La Jolla special to you?My two children fell in love with the area immediately upon arrival in 1974. It took my wife and I a little longer. In fact, it took me several years to get used to the warm Christmas season. Now it is hard to dislodge me.
If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in La Jolla?The Jewel could use much more diversity. At times, walking Prospect Avenue feels like strolling downtown Dublin.
Who or what inspires you?My heroes constantly change with the years. Aside from my parents who were the first Americans I knew, Martin Luther King Jr. looms as a mighty figure in American history and as an example of what an individual can accomplish with determination. More recently, I’ve become a huge fan of Barack Obama.
If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?I’ve always wondered what motivated William Lloyd Garrison to be such a revolutionary and daring abolitionist long before such endeavors and beliefs became a movement. I’m willing to make pork loin to hear his story. I’d be interested in asking Lee Harvey Oswald “the question.” However, he would have to leave soon after I’d wrenched an honest reply from his lips. President-elect Barack Obama and Michelle, of course, would be stimulating guests. An evening of stories from Duke Ellington would be a treat. Hearing the bawdy jokes and tales of Thurgood Marshall would certainly keep everyone entertained and enlightened. Having seen the HBO special and recently reading McCulloch’s biography, I would enjoy getting to know both John and Abigail Adams - especially, finding out what made her tick! (I guess that makes seven). I would reserve my last wish to spend the evening with my late wife, Rebecca, to ask if she approved of how I tried to raise the kids in her absence.
What are you currently reading?I’m in the midst of Peter Ackroyd’s huge and fascinating tome, “London: The Biography.”
What is your most prized possession?My kids and grandkids, always!
What do you do for fun?My work as an artist (pianist) is my greatest joy, benediction and penance.
Describe your greatest accomplishment.I take great pride in the role I played in bringing Preuss School at UCSD into existence. Oddly, the process of development and the success of these thousands of deserving youngsters filled a void in my life and allowed me to “pay forward” the many gifts I received and, maybe, didn’t fully deserve.
What is your motto or philosophy of life?I think Mark Twain is credited for saying something like: “Never let schooling interfere with your education.” I try to convey to my university students that their experience in the academy is probably the last time that they will be allowed to make fools of themselves while coming to grips with first principles and higher order of thinking. I think Mark Twain understood that very near the fruits of all good scientific and artistic inquiry lay a heap of experiments that didn’t work out.