By Hamil R. Harris

The sweet tones of live jazz permeated the Riggs Alumni Center at the University of Maryland in College Park on Saturday, July 16 where a group of gifted high school musicians performed, displaying an assortment of talents far beyond their ages. 

The musical interludes served as part of the 18th Anniversary & Awards Gala of the Foundation for the Advancement of Music Education, better known as FAME. Since its founding in 2004, FAME has identified, educated, mentored and groomed some of Prince George’s County’s most talented, young musicians. 

FAME has opened doors for hundreds of young people drawn to the world of music, many of whom have used their experiences as a launching pad for professional careers.  

“It’s all about putting the best that we have in our children,” said A. Toni  Lewis, founder and CEO of FAME. “It is so necessary, now more than ever because with test scores going down and stress levels on the rise, it’s essential that we remain present in their lives.”

The annual celebration, hosted by WHUR’s Candace Atkins-Wilson, attracted dozens of Prince George’s business leaders, elected officials, educators and proud parents. And after two years of being secluded at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in attendance appeared happy to be dressed up, dining out and grooving to the music. 

It is about partnerships and helping them build their capacity.

Carol Thompson Cole, president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners

“This past year at FAME, we had many successes and our team members came together so we could get past COVID and keep the music going,” said Ingrid Valentine, chairperson of the board for FAME. 

Before he unleashed the FAME Jazz Band on guests forced to decide between enjoying their meal of stuffed Cornish Hens or to take to the dance floor, Dr. Clarence Knight, the band’s artistic director, reminded the audience that teamwork remains the key to FAME’s success.

“This special occasion, like all of the programs, classes and concerts that we promote, would be impossible if it were not for many people – people who want nothing more than to help children who are committed to achieving what once may have seemed impossible,” he said. 

Award recipients in the areas of education and leadership included: Jeffery Parker, principal, Dr. Henry A. Wise High School; Cullen Waller, a teacher from Suitland High School; Rosemary Hughes, United Parcel Service; and Carol Thompson Cole, president/CEO, Venture Philanthropy Partners.

This award and this opportunity mean the world to me and give me all the inspiration I need to keep moving forward.

Lawrence Wingfield, pianist for the FAME Jazz Band

“It is about partnerships and helping them build their capacity,” said Cole, a former top official in the D.C. government under the administration of Mayor Marion Barry, who has since turned her focus on assisting and developing nonprofit organizations. 

Awards would also be presented to individuals who have made a difference as leaders in the greater Washington area community, including FAME volunteer Morris Wilson; Tonia Wellons, president/CEO, Washington Community Foundation; Byron Scott, anchor for Prince George’s CTV; and Ronald Burke, Director of Advertising and Marketing, The Washington Informer. 

Burke spoke on behalf of the Black-owned weekly publication which also served as a media sponsor for the event. 

“I am just a small part of what we are doing at the Informer,” said Burke, who added that FAME has long been a major sponsor for the Informer’s Annual Spelling Bee. “Everything we do is part of our mission to tell positive stories.”

At one point during the evening, the parents of the youth who counted as members of the band that provided the night’s music, stood and applauded FAME’s leaders, staff and volunteers for guiding their children and creating such a phenomenal event. 

Former District Heights Mayor and current County Council member Jonathan Medlock presented a special award to Lawrence Wingfield Jr., a youth with a promising future, who served as the pianist for the FAME Jazz Band. 

“Ever since I was a little boy, I have dreamed about playing the piano and being in a supportive environment,” Lawrence said. “This award and this opportunity mean the world to me and give me all the inspiration I need to keep moving forward.”