“Just listen to this,” Dean Marichal Gentry says, smiling and tapping his foot. From the tinny speakers of a computer in an office on the first floor of SSS, contemporary gospel artist Jade Moss belts exactly the words the excited new Dean seems to be thinking: “Sometimes I just get so bubbly on the inside!”
Gentry, who replaced the infamous Betty Trachtenberg as Yale’s Dean of Student Affairs in July, may not yet know DKE from da doox, but when it comes to music, especially gospel, he knows his stuff.
At Middlebury, where he served as Associate Dean for six years, he hosted “Good News with Marichal,” a radio show featuring mostly gospel and some R&B. Dean Gentry claims that many students actually set their alarms for 8:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings to listen to the show. After spending an hour in the warm company our new Dean, I assure you that this says far more about his charm than about the quality of Saturday nights in Vermont.
Gentry bears little resemblance to his stern predecessor. Either Yale decided it was time for a newer, gentler type of authority figure, or else the tedium and stress of overseeing six thousand overachievers has yet to break his spirit.
While the future dean was growing up in Tennesee, a constant soundtrack of church choir gospel, high school marching band and tunes from the nascent rap scene imbued a young Marichal Gentry with a love of music. “We’d get up on Sunday mornings and my mom would play records while we were getting ready for church,” he said. When an older cousin gave him a snare drum as a present one summer, Gentry sat outside practicing every day, quickly picking up the cadences that gained him entry into the high school band as a mere 7th grader. “I always had a sort of knack for it,” he says modestly.
Now, of course, he is more of a listener than a performer.
“You’ve never heard of drum corps?” he says with disbelief, before launching into the type kind of ardent description of competitive drumming that only a hobbyist can pull off.
Despite his passion for percussion, Dean Gentry’s first love is vocal music. The spirituality of gospel appeals to him, but the evocative voices of powerhouses like Yolanda Adams and T.G. Jakes also exert a pull. “It’s about the voices, it’s about the message, it’s about hope,” he says. Gentry sings himself, and still performs occasionally with the Orange Grove Gospel Choir, of which he was a full member as a graduate student at University of North Carolina.
Dean Gentry also appreciates some secular music, like Joss Stone, Keb Mo and even R. Kelly, who spends more time conjuring creative sexual innuendo than praising God. “Some of his lyrics are pretty nasty, but he’s an incredible artist,” he said.
While adjusting to Yale, Gentry has made music part of his daily routine, listening to his iPod on his walk to work every morning. Though he still doesn’t understand why everyone in New Haven is so obsessed with pizza — “They act like it’s the only food!” — Dean Gentry’s fondness for a capella and jovial enthusiasm prove he’ll soon be right at home at Yale.