Jazz concert to raise funds for student scholarships

‘Smooth Jazz in the Afternoon,’ hosted by the Bucks County branch of the NAACP, will feature international artist Sherry Winston on May 19 in Newtown

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Sweet sounds: Award-winning, international artist Sherry Winston will perform at ‘Smooth Jazz in the Afternoon,’ a concert hosted by the Bucks County branch of the NAACP that raises money for student scholarships. Source: Sherry Winston

For 38 years, Leonore Hope was a staple within the Bensalem Township School District, teaching English and theater, serving as an administrator at the high school, and getting involved with annual musical productions.

Though she retired two years ago, Hope had no plans to officially say “goodbye” to the world of education. Quickly, she got involved with the Bucks County branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). As the organization’s newly-named education chairperson, Hope has been diligently working to enhance its scholarship program to better serve local students.

On Sunday, May 19, at Bucks County Community College’s Zlock Performing Arts Center, the NAACP is presenting “Smooth Jazz in the Afternoon,” a fundraising concert featuring award-winning, international artist Sherry Winston. Proceeds will be put toward three $1,000 scholarships for area high schoolers who plan to further their learning at college in the fall.

“Years ago, they did this jazz event for some time, but it hasn’t been done in a while,” Hope said. “So I’m working with Verna Waite, she’s the wife of [Bucks County judge] Clyde Waite, and we are working together as a new team to produce this event. It’s going to be a fabulous event, but our main objective is to raise money for deserving seniors on their way to college.”

Scholarship applications were open to seniors at local public high schools, and the deadline for submission was right before Easter. In 2018, Hope’s first year organizing the program, 30 applications were received.

“Our criteria is, we’re looking for someone who wants to give back to the community, somebody who’s a very good student, and somebody who’s been involved,” she said. “Last year, our applications were excellent and it was really tough. So I’m expecting the same thing this year.”

The three recipients will be informed prior to the May 19 concert, and, along with their families, invited to be recognized at the event by NAACP representatives and Winston, who was a classmate of Waite’s husband at Howard University.

“He’s known her for quite some time and he and Verna have seen her perform before,” Hope said. “She truly is interested in giving back to the youth, so she volunteered graciously to help us out for a minimal cost, and is bringing her band and a small combo.”

Winston boasts quite the resume, and has performed in many of the major concert halls throughout the U.S., including Carnegie Hall, Constitution Hall, Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center. She has sung with Stevie Wonder in New York City to honor the legendary Hal Jackson on his 97th birthday, and also performed at the White House for former President Bill Clinton during his last holiday party.

To date, Winston has released six albums, with her first Do It For Love reaching №1 on the Black Excellence Charts. On the business side, she has worked as director of jazz promotion at Columbia, Arista and Elektra Records, and has promoted well-known artists such as Kenny G, Nancy Wilson and Harry Connick Jr. Winston is also the author of For Lovers Only: A Cookbook and More, which teaches readers how to entertain that special someone from the moment they enter the home until the second they leave.

According to Waite, who works as an on-call chaplain at Doylestown Hospice, “Smooth Jazz in the Afternoon” ties in effortlessly to one of the NAACP’s major focal points — art education.

“That is intentional because nurturing the aesthetic sense in our young people actually helps them with their identity and helps all human beings,” she said. “If you develop your aesthetic sense as you distinguish something that’s beautiful and pleasing to you from something that is more disturbing or not so pleasing, that actually helps you make decisions quickly in all areas of life.”

Hope shared her colleague’s sentiment.

“We truly support the arts which we think sometimes, with all the cuts in education, has become a dying thing. People don’t want to spend money on the arts, but we believe the arts are truly the means to producing excellence,” Hope said. “Kids would not have survived had it not been for the arts.”

The pair, along with the rest of the local NAACP branch, is currently working to build its catalog of community partners to help provide education, social awareness and academic enrichment to Bucks County youth. The organization often works closely with the Peace Center in Langhorne, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and other nonprofits with similar missions.

“I’m very impressed with the work of the Bucks County branch of the NAACP. They have quite the commitment to scholarship because education seems to be the eye to reducing income inequality as well as social justice,” Waite said. “We also have a strong commitment to community shaping. Although it is predominantly an African-American organization, they welcome diversity. And so even on our board and on our committee, we are diverse. We represent the community in which we live. I think that the NAACP takes great pride in being a cultural architect.” ••

If you go…

“Smooth Jazz in the Afternoon” will take place Sunday, May 19, at Bucks County Community College’s Zlock Performing Arts Center, 275 Swamp Road, Newtown. Cost per ticket is $60. All guests are invited to enjoy a private reception with light refreshments from 3 to 4 p.m., with the show beginning at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com/e/smooth-jazz-in-the-afternoon-featuring-sherry-winston-tickets-59090963663

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com