In 1977, Watson was appointed as the first African American administrative dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. He would eventually serve as Chair of the department, Dean for the Senior Class and the Pre Law Advisor in 1981
Watson was later appointed as assistant to the Vice-President for Campus Affairs. In this capacity, he worked closely with the President’s office on the first unionization effort at an Ivy League institution, and every aspect of campus affairs for undergraduate students. William Gurowitz, another Jewish man, the Vice President for Campus Affairs, also mentored him.
In 1983, he was elected on a write-in campaign and served as a member of the Board of Education in Ithaca New York. The election was orchestrated by Ithaca School teachers who were dissatisfied with the City’s negotiation with the Teachers union. Feminists, members of the LGBT community, and the Black community came together. Two candidates were elected and unseated the Chairman of the Board of Education.
In 1984, he was appointed as the first academic administrative dean at Harvard University. He oversaw the academic administrative activities of the departments of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning and design, writing all the tenure review cases between 1984 and 1989. During these years he served with legal scholar Derrick Bell as the co-chair of the Association of Black Faculty and Administrators at Harvard University and co-authored “The Final Report,” a powerfully written commentary of Harvard University’s lack of progress in appointing Black professors to tenure positions by Professor Derrick Bell Derrick.
Watson’s activist work would be chronicled in several of Derrick Bells’ publications. In 1993, Watson was appointed as Director of Faculty Development and Diversity at the Noble and Greenough School, one of the most exclusive independent High Schools at the United States. In 1994, Watson was appointed as an adjunct professor at Boston College, and associate professor at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and Berklee College of Music. He also served for two years at Springfield Colleges’ school of Human Services.
Eventually, Watson would receive a full-time appointment at Berklee College of Music and resign his position at the other educational institutions. He continues to serve as a professor of Ensemble at Berklee College of Music in the Performance Department.
Watson started his professional music career in 1975 in Ithaca, New York, while he was pursuing his graduate work. He played pizza parlors, bars, venison parties, conferences, ski resorts and nightclubs. He was one of the organizers of the first Ithaca Music Festival; he introduced many of the original members of the New York Voices to Motown and they sang and played in his earlier bands. He sat in with Stanley Jordan when he was a street player and co-founded the Festival of Black Gospel Music at Cornell University, where he featured the legendary Shirley Caesar, The Barrett Sisters, The Clark Sisters, and Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins family. He was the first to hire Donnie McClurkin to direct a 250-voice mass choir.
Lawrence Watson, is a soulful messenger for the millennium and has been described a modern-day Paul Robeson. As a professor at Berklee College of Music, he teaches the History and Music of Motown, Stage Performance Technique courses, The Foundations of Singing with Soul, African American Music, Culture and History, private vocal instruction and a freshman seminar on Artistry, Creativity, Inquiry and Music.
He currently serves as the Resident Artist at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. In that capacity he provides music to complement the various conferences and seminars sponsored by the Institute. Kay Bourne music critic for the Bay State Banner writes: "This powerful baritone, who easily swoops up to the tenor range, sings with a groovy beat lyrics that convey messages smoothly delivered yet relevant to the Black cause. He is the respected inheritor of the Great Black Music tradition of blues, jazz and gospel, but his own man too."
Mr. Watson has been special guest with billing on concerts with Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Oleta Adams, Little Richard, Gladys Knight, The Neville Brothers, Tata Vega, Jean Carne, and the Boston Pops Orchestra. He has also been the soloist at several events honoring three Supreme Court Justices, the honorable President Nelson Mandela, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Honorable Reverend Desmond Tutu, Mr. Harry Belafonte, Berry Gordy and the honorable President Barack Obama.
Born Lawrence Watson at Cumberland Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, Watson was the firstborn son of Elonzo Watson and Thelma Blair, natives of Bennettsville, South Carolina relocated to the Bedford & Stuyvesant in the 1950s and raised three sons, Lawrence, Caesar, and Elonzo Jr. Watson attended the public schools P.S 54, 304, 59, and Thomas Jefferson High School. While in high school he seriously started to pursue his musical interest.
He was admitted to a special high school program for promising Black students called College Discovery. The sole goal of the program was to increase the number of Black students from the New York public schools entering four-year colleges. The students enrolled in the program were not allowed to participate in any sports teams or any other kind of extracurricular activity.
Watson would return to the Black Baptist Church and gain great inspiration from the daughter of Pastor Reverend Curtis Chambers. Pastor Chamber’s daughter, Mae, remains one of the greatest musical influences in Watson’s life. Hearing her soar on songs like “I’d Trade a Lifetime” and “The Blood of Jesus,” as well as many spirituals and gospel songs made Watson realize his calling. This would also be his first encounter with Motown Music and Mr. Berry Gordy.
Watson graduated in 1970 from Thomas Jefferson High School and attended the State University at Oswego. While at Oswego, Watson blossomed as a musician, activist, and layman historian.
He majored in Secondary Education and History and founded Uhuru Sasa, a black newspaper within the college newspaper, The Oswegonian. He wrote a weekly column and often wrote under pseudonyms, giving the impression that several black students were exercising their vocal advocacy through the written word.
It was at Oswego that Watson would meet Dr. Arthur Gittlen, a Jewish faculty member who had spent a great deal of time working with gangs in Harlem. Gittlen was married to a Black Puerto Rican woman. He introduced Watson to the writings of Baldwin, Malcolm X, Dubois, Dunbar, Woodson McKay, Wright, and Ellison. Dr. Gittlen, a white man, modeled his behavior after Malcolm X. He would have the greatest influence on Watson’s training as a student of history and activist.
One night, Watson’s college roommate begged him to take him to Gittlen’s house for an introduction. Gittlen scolded Watson for bringing a white man to his house that had not been screened. This led to a major argument between the two. Gittlen explained that his home was the only place his interracial children could feel comfortable without the glare of Whites. He only allowed Whites in his home that had actively addressed and confronted their racism. That roommate was the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The meeting that evening prompted Gittlen to indict Seinfeld as a Jew playing it safe.
This encounter compelled Seinfeld’s to withdraw from Oswego, pack up his little blue fiat, and drive across country to pursue his career as a comedian. Watson went on to pursue a graduate terminal master's degree at Cornell University and studied under Dr. John Henrik Clarke, one of the founders of Black Studies in America, Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan, the country’s leading Black Egyptologist, Dr. James Turner, Dr. Robert Harris, Dr. Rose Ann Pope Bell, Dr. Ron Bailey, Dr. Manning Marable, and a host of other notable Black scholars. Watson would be the first scholar to do a serious study on the life and writings of Joel Augustus Rogers, considered by many to be the founder of Black Studies and the self-published author of numerous books and articles on the African in the diaspora.
Watson received a Masters of Professional Studies from the Africana Studies and Research Center from Cornell University in 1977-78. Later he would pursue a certificate in educational management from the School of Education at Harvard University and devote his life to teaching and activist musical performance. Upon graduation from Oswego, in 1974, Watson's first professional appointment was as a social studies/history teacher at the Osborne School at the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn New York.
This was one of the worst prisons in the New York State system. There he would meet H. Rap Brown and many other political prisoners. He would hear about the mysterious murders of inmates. He heard stories of fires in the facility where men burned to death clutching prison bars because the fire safety equipment was so old, hoses could not reach the cell in time to save lives.
Being one of two black professors at the school, Watson experienced firsthand at 21 what harassment and racism looked and felt like. The other was one of his mentors, Mr. Hinton, a powerful man with no arms who dedicated his life to working with these inmates. H. Rap Brown incarcerated at Auburn, would not speak to Watson or sit in his classes, convinced Watson must be an agent of the state if he had secured such a teaching post in a state prison. Years later Watson would meet H. Rap Brown at Cornell University and set the record straight.