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Harlem School of the Arts present Wé McDonald and Matthew Whitaker in concert

AmNews Staff Reports | 2/16/2017, 12:48 p.m.
On a recent wintry evening in downtown Manhattan, the stage at the Highline Ballroom was anything but cold: Wé McDonald ...
Eric G. Pryor, We McDonald, Matthew Whitaker and Charles J. hamilton Jr., HSA board chair Contributed

On a recent wintry evening in downtown Manhattan, the stage at the Highline Ballroom was anything but cold: Wé McDonald reminded the sold-out crowd of mostly parents and young adults that it took a village to nurture her talent.

The village she was referring to was her supportive family, and the exceptionally rich environment and arts programming offered at the 50-year-old Harlem School of the Arts

If you recall, McDonald was the youngest of the final four contestants on this past season of NBC’s “The Voice.” When she stepped onto the stage for her blind audition, taking on Nina Simone’s classic “Feeling Good,” she simply stunned the audience, receiving a four-chair turn from the judges. What was even more impressive was the maturity and poise this 17-year-old displayed.

Sharing the Highline’s stage with McDonald was Matthew Whitaker, another supremely gifted young performer. The youngest artist endorsed by both Hammond and Yamaha, and a first place winner of “Showtime at the Apollo,” hosted by Steve Harvey, the 15-year-old, self-taught musical prodigy has earned the respect and high praise of accomplished fellow musicians, including Christian McBride, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Stanley Jordan, Arturo O’Farrill and Roy Ayers, with all of whom he has had the honor of playing.

Both McDonald and Whitaker are beneficiaries of the rigorous training that HSA is known for, and the phenomenal structure provided by a quality staff of teachers and mentors.

“When we provide opportunities for our students to find their voice and to channel their talent through rigorous training, the possibility of what they can accomplish is unlimited,” said Eric G. Pryor, HSA president. “One thing that’s always impressed me about Wé is that she is dedicated to putting in the time necessary to achieve her artistic goals. She’s done hip-hop classes, dance and theater at HSA. She didn’t just do the things that were comfortable for her in music. She challenged herself.”

Yoland Wyns, HSA music director, added “Since ‘The Voice,’ we had been working very hard to prepare this showcase, and she made us very proud. We accomplished so much in just a month, pulling together the background singers from our choral group, the Dorothy Maynor Singers, and choreographing the dancers who appeared with her.”

These two young artists credit the school and the formidable arts programs it offers for their growing success. The school in turn points to these gifted young people as an example of what the next 50 years is shaping up to look like.

Included among the many luminaries in attendance at the concert were Ray Chew, musical director for ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” “Law & Order SVU” actress Tamara Tunie, Ray Angry of The Roots, Janis Savin Williams of Williams Capital Group and HSA board secretary, Charles J. Hamilton Jr., who chairs the HSA board, singer Melissa Morgan, music producer Gordon Chambers and Wal-Mart representative Tony Waller.

The concert was presented by the Harlem School of the Arts, in association with Jill Newman Productions and sponsored by Wal-Mart.