(l to r) Actor John Stamos, Vernon Reid, Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Black Rock Coalition and Living Colour co-founder Vernon Reid received The Mayor's Award For Arts & Culture at a lavish awards presentation at The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, NY.  Big shout to Vernon for singling out The Black Rock Coalition during his acceptance speech.

All of the honorees represent the depth and diversity that New York City has to offer: The Thalia Spanish Theatre celebrates Spanish and Latin America culture. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation provides grants to performance arts organizations, environmental causes and to various childrens charities.  H.T. Chen of The Chen Dance Center has been a major force on the New York Chinese community for over 30 years.  The Big Apple Circus has been entertaining audiences since 1977 and distributes free tickets to disadvantaged and disabled children

PS 69 Principal Jaynemarie Capetanakis is the Principal of the
arts-intensive PS 69 in Brooklyn, which has a Progress Report 'A'
rating despite the fact most of her students live in poverty and half
are English Language Learners.  All of were also honored for their 'significant contributions to the cultural life of New York City'.  Singing great Jessye Norman, whose list of achievements are literally too numerous to mention, received The NYC Handel Medallion, which is New York's highest award for distinguished achievement in the arts.

Vernon+award The entire evening blew me away.  To tell you the truth, it was
very moving.  First off, The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
facilities, in the heart of Astoria, is second to none.  Everything 's
brand new and state of the art, it's an extraordinary place for the
city's gifted and talented youth to harness and develop
their creativity.  The fruits of their labor were clearly on display
as the Sinatra School Of The Arts Musical Theatre Ensemble effortlessly
performed a medley from 'Bye Bye Birdie', that included appearances from musicial's star John Stamos and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Stamos and Mayor Bloomberg stayed aboard to anchor the presentation,
which included outstanding perfomances by Cajun Cellist Sean Grissom
and Picaso, Jr. of the Big Apple Circus.  Cultural Affairs Commissoner
Kate D. Levin and Cultural Advisory Commission Chair Agnes Gund also
shared hosting duties.  There was even an appearance of Grandma, the
heart and soul of The Big Apple Circus!
Jessye Norman was honored with a passionate speech by Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson and a powerful dramatic reading of some of Norman's favorite writers by actor Avery BrooksDee Dee Bridgewater's version of Billie Holliday's 'God Bless The Child'  and The Dance Theatre of Harlem captivating performance left everyone in the Tony Bennett Concert Hall absolutely breathless.  Bridgewater and Norman
(below) concluded the presentation with a improvised, yet stunning rendition of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'.  


It was a spectactular and glorious celebration of the arts.  More importantly, as it was pointed out in just about all of the acceptance speeches,
there must be a continued encouragement and support for more arts
programs in our schools, in our homes and in our everyday lives. 

Words and photos by Earl Douglas, who is the Executive Director for The Black Rock Coalition.
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