FAMU celebrates its musical masters

Photo courtesy famu.edu

FAMU’s College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, the college’s Department of Music hosted “Musical Masters” on Sunday, a live virtual dedication in honor of former professors Rebecca Walker Steele, Mary Warren Roberts and Vernon Leon Smith.

The naming ceremony of the Foster-Tanner Music Recital Hall and Choral Suite posthumously awarded Steele and Smith, with the Steele-Smith Concert Choral Suite.

Roberts, a member of the committee that hosted the ceremony, was unaware that she’d be awarded with the Mary W. Roberts Recital Hall.

Master of ceremony Rosalie Hill introduced various performance tributes and acknowledgements for the honorees including Erika Johnson and Darien Bolden, Miss FAMU for this academic school year and president of the FAMU Concert Choir. Family members, former students and mentees Marva Wyche-Thomas, Joyce Williams Knight, Jeffery Redding, Cortha M. Pringle, Sonja Smith Stanley, Tonya Smith L’Bert, Carmen Cummings Martin, Terrance L. Lane, Mark Butler and FAMU President Larry Robinson were some of the people who voiced their love and appreciation for the honorees.

“I remember his kindness and him being hard on me when I needed it,” said Redding, director of Choral Activities at the University of Central Florida, when discussing his gratitude for honoree Smith. “I would not be doing what I’m doing, if it were not for Vernon Smith giving me the chance first.”

Pringle, the owner/director of Kumon, although not a student at FAMU, but a mentee and fellow church member of Smith’s, said she appreciated his guidance.

“And made me feel like we were all part of his family, he instilled a value that all things were possible and if it was worth having sometimes you had to fight and push,” said Pringle.

Wyche Thomas, a student and mentee of Steele’s, recounted her relationship with the honoree during the program and indicated Steele’s great influence in her life and musical career.

Wyche retold a story of her emotional, yet necessary rollercoaster mentorship with Steele, saying Steele once made her cry due to a disappointing rehearsal. Though Wyche indicated the necessity of Steele’s truth, for the development of her own success.

“To this day I can recall so many performances we did whether it was a solo or whatever, that had just stuck in my mind every time I wanted to do it, it would be as if she were whispering in my ear,‘Don’t forget what I taught you,” said Wyche.

 Honoree Roberts was able to attend the ceremony’s live broadcast, along with her son William Roberts. He spoke on Roberts’ behalf, thanking everyone for the celebration, in addition to the “great honor” of naming the recital hall after her.

“I have fond memories of time spent in the recital hall, presenting my students and recitals and my own performances as soloists and accompanist, and later to have spent my entire professional musical career at Florida A&M University, it was my dream job,” William said.

You can view the virtual ceremony online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69vkiz25oKM