The City College Center for the Arts presented its Inaugural Awards Benefit in celebration of the contributions to the arts by individual legendary dancers and musical talent of our generation. Beginning with a cocktail reception and photography shoots, the main lobby was animated with excitement as award recipients and guests alike met and gathered within Aaron Davis Hall. After the reception audience members were escorted to The Marian Anderson Theater for the presentation.
The CCCA Inaugural Awards Benefit opened with a stunning performance by the young dancers of Batoto Yetu and Sho-Off Dance Companies. With riveting music, pounding drums and Caribbean- African dance movements, the Batoto Yetu bestowed energy into the audience and subsequently, the Sho-Off dancers, in modern black militaristic attire, hip-hopped in uniformity; setting the pace for a night of excitement and anticipation.
Dr. Lisa S. Coico, the President of the City College of New York began with a few welcome remarks while slides of historic CCNY where shown, then Karen Witherspoon, Vice President of Government, Community and Cultural Affairs at the City College of New York was introduced. Ms. Witherspoon spoke to the audience about the importance of this benefit, while acknowledging the members of the board and the chairman and women of CCCA.
Maurice DuBois, New York City’s recognizable anchor of CBS 2 News at 5 and CBS News at 11 was The Master of Ceremonies. Mr. DuBois anchored in Seattle, California and Chicago before settling in New York. He has five Emmy’s, as well as, several community and journalism awards and has attained honors from The New York Association of Black Journalists, The Associated Press, and The New York State Broadcasters Association. Being no stranger to community service, Mr. DuBois serves on the board for three non-profit organizations. The benefit was in good hands. The dedicated professionalism of Mr. DuBois, kept the event on a smooth trajectory, as the night continued in videos, music, dance performances and award presentations. Short video clips were shown of each honoree, describing his or her achievements, talents and specific artistry.
Terrance McKnight, producer and an accomplished vocalist and pianist in his own right was the Awards Presenter. Mr. McKnight is the weekday host of WQRX and a myriad of other radio shows, such as, All Ears with Terrance McKnight, which creatively combines several musical genres. Mr. McKnight, in a resounding (classically?) trained voice, introduced the audience to the first of the four honorees, which would encompass Carmen De Lavallade, Alexa Ray Joel, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Arturo O’Farrill.
Carmen De Lavallade, actress and dancer (extraordinaire) of movies, theater and ballet was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in Dance. Ms. De Lavallade was the second African American to become a principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera and choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, the Metropolitan Opera and the Dance Theater of Harlem. Having previously received numerous awards, and with appearances in four movies, she continued her career in ballets created for her by such notables as Agnes de Mille, Lester Horton and husband Geoffrey Holder. Currently touring, Ms. De Lavallade continues her creative expression with I Remember, an original theatrical dance presentation about her six decades of living artistry.
Singer/songwriter Alexa Ray Joel was presented the Inspiration to Youth Award. Having performed at Café Carlyle and The Oak Room, with distinctive, new songs, her single release, “Notice Me” was a Sirius XM Hit. With the unmistakable realistic lyrics in her “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, “Resistance” and the powerfully righteous indignation of “The Revolution Song”, Ms. Joel’s music embodies a query of honest inner dialogue and reflection upon life. Ms. Joel has reinvented some of the most popular songs of her father, Billy Joel; is a correspondent for fashion events, teen publications, and an avid participant at charitable events. Ms. Joel’s involvement and performances benefitting children, animals and the environmental issues that she supports, helps to educate youngsters in understanding their worthiness within society.
Gina Prince-Bythewood was presented with the Artistic Achievement Award in Film for her amazing writing and directing of such movies as “Love and Basketball”, the HBO film “Disappearing Acts” and “The Secret Life of Bees”, which won two NAACP Awards and two People’s Choice Awards. Her latest feature “Beyond the Lights”, gained her top critic recognition, New York Times and The Washington Post. Before her directorial career, Ms. Prince-Bythewood was a writer on such television shows as “A Different World”, “South Central”, and “Felicity”. With numerous awards and scholarships, Ms. Prince-Bythewood is paying forward in funding a UCLA film program scholarship for African American students.
Ms. Darilyn Castillo, singer, actress and former CCNY student graced the audience by performing a beautiful rendition of “Waiting for Life”, a song from the musical “Once on This Island”.
Arturo O’Farrill composer, pianist, and educator, was presented with the Artistic Achievement Award in Music. Mr. O’Farill has a worldwide repertoire of musical collaborations with great artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre and countless others. This multiple Grammy Award winner has played with the Chico O’Farill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, The Carla Bley Band, and The Fort Apache Band and has composed musical scores for films ‘Hollywoodland” and “Salud”. A short video in the making of his new album, “The Offense of the Drum” was presented. Afterward, to the delight of the audience, Mr. Arturo O’Farill performed with his Grammy Award winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
With such a seamless presentation, it was very apparent that the success of the presentation was due to the incredible staff behind the scenes. Managing Director, Gregory Shanck, Artistic Director, David Covington, Technical Director, Joe Dziedzic, Assistant Technical Director, Yvette Spellman, Production Manager, Piero Ramos, Stage Manager, Mimi Craig, Box Office Manager, Derek Quinlan, Lighting Designer, Brian Aldous, Stage Crew, J. Acosta and Rae Maben and the excellent sound equipment provided by Boulevard Sound.
When the award presentation concluded the audience was escorted to Theater B’s sensuously lit, richly decorated and elaborated flowered banquet dinning space. The celebration was glorious, with a DJ spinning popular music and a generous dance floor, honorees and guests were efficiently catered to by the freshly donned, professional wait staff of Canard Inc., while eating, schmoozing and dancing the night away.