50th Anniversary Publication


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50th Anniversary Publications

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NSA Celebrating 50 years. NEWARK SCHOOL OF THE ARTS Music Dance Drama Visual Arts


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NSA visual arts students used a donation of old, unusable violins to create an art project.


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table of contents Message from the Board Chair Page 2 A Brief History of NSA Page 4 This is What Success Looks Like: Stories of Distinguished Alumni Page 8 Historical Timeline Page 24 Student Voices Page 26


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Newark School of the Arts at 50 What a cause for celebration as we mark 50 years of inspiring children of all ages at the Newark School of the Arts! All of us who have been lucky enough to be associated with the school believe (many of us passionately!) that study of music, dance, visual arts and theatre can truly transform lives. Fifty years ago, two Newark public school teachers, Stella Lass and Saunders Davis, saw a need for disciplined and accessible arts instruction for the city’s children. They put their vision through the hard works that are the hallmark of so many of NSA’s accomplished alumni, and founded the Newark Community Center of the Arts in borrowed space at 186 Clinton Ave. Within a few years children like a four-year old Savion Glover, a seven-year old Lisa Attles, and an 11year old Derek Lee Ragin came through the doors of the school’s new headquarters at 89 Lincoln Park. We are grateful to their parents who were quick to recognize exceptional talent. And we are equally grateful to their teachers who knew that raw talent needs disciplined instruction to blossom, and to the many people in our community who knew that supporting the school was the right thing to do. You are encouraged to read about NSA’s inspiring history and achievements in this book. We decided the best way to showcase our success was to profile some of our distinguished alumni. Choosing them was something of a challenge, as there are so many alumni who have gone on to contribute to society, not just as artists and performers, but as truly engaged citizens. We have great plans and hopes for the NSA’s next 50 years. Whether you are a former or current student, parent, teacher, staff member, or community supporter, we encourage you to be an active participant in our journey. We owe it to the families of Newark, and to the vision of our founders, to continue to dream, plan, and build. With boundless thanks, Curtis Johnson, chair, Board of Trustees 2


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NSA Co-founder Stella Lass with student musicians. 3


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It’s the beauty I find in these children, and the extraordinary talent.” -Stella Lass, 1973 Newark School of the Arts – a brief history Founded in 1968, the Newark School of the Arts (NSA) has been a vital institution dedicated to introducing the performing and visual arts to our city’s youth. For 50 years, the school has profoundly impacted the lives of children of all ages, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, by equipping them not only with musical and artistic training, but by instilling “a love of the arts and self-confidence in each and every child.” This ambition, the brainchild of NSA founders Stella Lass and Saunders Davis, has continued as the school’s core mission. In the aftermath of the city’s urban disturbances in 1967, Newark public school piano teachers Stella Lass and 4 Saunders Davis recognized a crying need for quality arts


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education in the city’s public schools. Their awareness gave birth to the Newark Community Center for the Arts (NCCA), and in February 1968, in the Baptist Minister’s Headquarters with 75 students and 17 faculty members, the school was well on its way to addressing the city’s need for art accessibility. With the support of educational and cultural organizations like the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Newark Board of Education, Rutgers School of Law, and others, the NCCA began its journey. Success came early on, and in 1970 the NCCA was the recipient of a $200,000 challenge grant from the Ford Foundation. The business community stepped forward to match these funds and in 1971 the NCCA went on to hold its first annual spring concert in Newark’s Symphony Hall. Students performed works by Mozart, Liszt, and Bach, and younger pupils demonstrated the Orff music approach and the Suzuki violin methods. That year, the school’s building at 89 Lincoln Park was purchased, and Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson led opening day ceremonies. Over the years, hardships came alongside many achievements. City budgets were stressed, resulting in reduced municipal support, and messages of intolerance occasionally defaced the property. Yet the NCCA endured these economic and social challenges, and Stella Lass and everyone involved with the school remained deeply committed. In 1974 Lass proclaimed the school’s purpose to serve “as a model for the rest of the country.” That aspiration was achieved in 1978 when the school was identified as a “model program unique in the United States” by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and awarded a $40,000 challenge grant, one of the first to be given to a New Jersey organization. Determined to improve the accessibility of arts education and to educate more young minds, the founders, faculty members, and “a love of the arts and self-confidence in each and every child.” 5


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parents of NCCA students in the 1970s were heartened by a message released by PSE&G: “When these Newark kids play, we all should listen.” In the 1980s, after being renamed Newark Community School of the Arts (NCSA), the school undertook muchneeded building renovations and expanded its financial backing from the community and national foundations. In 1982, the 89 Lincoln Park location adopted a barrierfree design, made possible by the Hayden, Hyde, Pettinos, and Watson Foundation. In 1986 NCSA received a Governor’s Arts Award in the category of “Arts in Education” and the following year the NJ State Council on the Arts (NJSCA) recognized the school with an “Artistic Achievement Award.” New developments included an Artists-in-Residence program; Second Species, an avant-garde opera; and a second NEA challenge grant of $100,000. In ceremonial fashion, the end of the 1980s welcomed the NCSA’s 20th anniversary celebration with the commission of a ballet, And Still the Snowflakes Fall, featuring renowned mime 6 Yass Hakoshima, NCSA students, the Newark Boys Chorus, and the Cathedral Orchestra, at Symphony Hall. Kicking off the new decade, the school was awarded the NJSCA “Excellence Award” in 1990. In 1991 The Outcome: Reflections on Time, an integrative jazz, dance, rap poetry, and performance art show, was commissioned and produced by the NCSA with the support of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the NEA Inter-Arts Program. Despite these successes, the school was still experiencing serious financial challenges, which eventually led to near bankruptcy. The tide was turned with critical support from the Prudential Foundation, the NJSCA, the Victoria Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and other partners, allowing the school to continue providing excellent arts education to youth of all ages, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. A full-time arts and recreational summer day program for children ages 4-16 was established in 1993, the Public Schools Program in 1996, and the NJPAC Jeffrey Carollo scholarship in 1998. Accolades included a proclamation


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from Mayor Sharpe James, a Congressional Record tribute from Congressman Donald M. Payne, and the school’s selection as one of 50 semi-finalists in what is now known as the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, a program awarding recognition to “exemplary arts and humanities programs which foster young people’s intellectual and creative development.” In 2002 the school was renamed again, becoming the Newark School of the Arts (NSA), and in 2004 achieved record fundraising of more than $220,000 at an event chaired by Prudential Financial executive Mark Grier. The school’s designations (in 2006, 2011, 2013-17) as a “Major Service and Presenting Organization,” and a Citation for Excellence recipient (2013-2016) by the NJCSA, have helped the NSA to become especially wellknown and treasured by the Newark community. With the 2008 renovation of the Lincoln Park headquarters and expanded programming, the NSA is now a major player in the internationally recognized arts community in New Jersey’s largest city. The school’s rich history and track record of success are profoundly marked by the achievements of many alumni, among them world-renowned tap dancer Savion Glover, opera singer Derek Lee Ragin, popular singer Frankie Negrón, actresses Kim Hawthorne and Keisha Knight Pulliam, and 2017 MacArthur Fellowship recipient Tyshawn Sorey. “We had faith,” said Stella Lass in 1971, when asked about the creation of the NCCA. That faith was and is in the youth of Newark, in the necessity of delivering accessible arts education, and in returning much of the city’s beauty lost in the aftermath the civic disturbances of the 1960s. This faith and commitment is what holds the NSA together today, not as a “recreation center … [but as] a school of high purpose.” “When these Newark kids play, we all should listen.” 7


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looTskuhwscilchsiekasisset meet a few of our NSA distinguished alumni. A-Larenée Davis Since she was a young girl, soprano A-Larenée Davis set her sights on becoming an opera singer. She began her study of voice and piano at age eight under Newark School of the Arts (NSA) teacher Nadine Herman and continued through high school. She received the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) Jeffrey Carollo Scholarship at age 11. While growing up in Newark, Davis also studied at NJPAC’s Young Artist Institute and Summer Youth Performance Workshop. Both at Arts High School and the New England Conservatory (NEC), Davis was a stand-out student, excelling in her academics. At NEC in Boston, she studied classical music as a vocal performance major. Davis has performed the works of Gershwin, Mozart, Schubert, and many others. In 2009, she was the NJPAC Vocal Performance scholarship winner, and was a recipient of an NJPAC Award for Excellence in Music, as well as becoming one of 89 students who received the NJ Governor’s Award in Arts Education. In the summer of 2012, Davis received a scholarship to study at the Académie Internationale d’Eté de Nice, France. In the summer of 2016, Davis made her debut in the opera Porgy and Bess at the Spoleto Festival USA, a major 8 performing arts festival in Charleston, South Carolina.


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In 2016 she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey, put together by five-time Grammy-winning soprano Kathleen Battle. n my voice for my community in a different way,” Braga told Seton Hall Law’s In The Spotlight, explaining her interest in moving beyond representing the city solely through music. She is concentrating in corporate law at Seton Hall. n Caroline Braga Multilingual classical soprano Caroline Braga began her formal voice training at age 12 with teacher Nadine Herman at NSA. A Newark native, Braga attended Wilson Avenue School and the Newark Arts High School. She went on to attend the Manhattan School of Music as a scholarship student and classical voice major, graduating with honors in 2014. Braga’s passion for music has been with her since her childhood. She has performed at Newark City Hall, NJPAC, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, but didn’t stop there. After studying as a scholarship student at the Académie Internationale d’Eté de Nice in France, she went on to perform in New York City, France, Italy, and Spain. Braga made a career turn in 2017 to become a scholarship student at Seton Hall Law School, after graduating from Columbia University with an honors degree in political science. While praised for her expressive singing, Braga is also acclaimed for her activism within low-income, first generation, and Latino communities. “Now I want to use Carrie Jackson With soul, elegance, and a deep love of jazz, Newark-born singer Carrie Jackson has been captivating audiences since she was a child. She began her musical career at age six in the Newark Mount Calvary Baptist Church children’s choir, and soon after started vocal and piano training at the Newark Community School of the Arts (NCSA). She studied piano with Howard “Duke” Anderson and voice with Inez McClendon, Nadine Herman, and Winston Hughes. A graduate of Weequahic High School, Jackson credits her time at NCSA as helping her become an experienced singer and band leader. Her musical inspirations have been Billie Holiday, Gloria Lynne, Nancy Wilson, and Newark native Sarah “Sassy” Jackson “rekindles thoughts Vaughan. of America’s great jazz In the spring of 1992 history,” according to Jackson was hailed Broadway World. as showcasing “jazz singing in its purest sense,” in a performance she gave with her Jazzin’ All Star Quartet. In 1996 she formed C-Jay Recording & Productions, Inc., serving as president and CEO. She released her debut album The Nearness of You, 9


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dedicated to her mother, Loretta Jackson, who is, in her words, her biggest fan and best friend, followed by the album If I Had My Way. Jackson has been featured on radio programs including WBGO’s “Singers Unlimited,” and has been interviewed by WBGO’s Michael Bourne and Mark Blaustein of MSU’s radio station. Former Star-Ledger reporter Barbara Kukla has described Jackson as “Newark’s jazz maven.” An experienced international performer, Jackson “rekindles thoughts of America’s great jazz history,” according to Broadway World. She has been a principal artist in Thomas “Fats” Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ and 49th Street Jazz, the musical review and tribute to Alberta Hunter, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Eubie Blake. She has worked with many noted musicians, such as Cecil Brooks III, the James L. Dean Orchestra, Stanley Jordan & Trio, and The Ellington Legacy Band. Carrie Jackson can often be found singing for senior citizens in nursing homes or serving as the vice president of music for the New Jersey Jazz Society. Following her establishment of the Jazz Vocal Collective in 2007, she continues to hold workshops for talented jazz and cabaret performers. She has made a name for herself on the NY/ NJ jazz scene through performances in the historical Lenox Lounge NYC, Le Caveau De La Huchette, Newark Jazz Festival, New Jersey Historical Society, Seton Hall University, Schomburg Cultural Center, Watchung Arts Center, and many others. n 10 Cynthia Holiday Newark jazz and blues artist Cynthia Holiday took part in the NSA’s jazz vocal program and studied under teachers Inez McClendon and Howard “Duke” Anderson. This was followed by private lessons with Jim Carson, Myrna Lake, Rita DaCosta Turrentine, and Ulysses Slaughter. Holiday attended Newark’s Weequahic High School and Montclair State University (MSU). After earning her M.A. in counseling from MSU, finishing four years of study at Garden State Ballet, and serving as a dance instructor at NSA, Holiday left dancing to focus on her jazz career. Holiday grew up in a profoundly musical family. Her stepfather is renowned trumpeter and bandleader Calvin Hughes, who performed with jazz legends like Big Maybelle, Count Basie, and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Her mother Betty Hughes was the director of community affairs for NSA, and her uncle is NSA teacher Winston Hughes. Her sister Valerie Holiday has performed since 1967 with The Three Degrees, an all-female group with top-50 hit singles in the UK. Holiday’s compelling stage presence and artistry has earned her many accolades. She has been described as “the real deal,” possessing a “beautiful voice, perfect for jazz, with a precise sense of timing and jazz rhythm.” Her first album, All The Way (2008), with Miles High Records, features classics as well as original pieces. Her second release, a live album entitled I Like What I See, was


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produced in 2014 and recorded at the Birdland Jazz Club in New York. Holiday recently stated her goals to “…record a third CD and continue to expand my fan base by touring the U.S. and internationally.” Holiday has continued to perform in the U.S. and abroad, in places such as Antigua, Barbados, Japan, Russia, and Saint Maarten. In 2013 she served as a judge for the Osaka Asian Dreams Jazz Competition and performed with the T.S. Monk Sextet in Osaka, Japan. She is perhaps best described by WBGO Jazz host Sheila Anderson: “I hear the humor of Helen Humes, the soul of Ernestine Anderson, the warm timbre of Nancy Wilson and the storytelling of Marlena Shaw, but make no mistake, what you hear is pure Cynthia Holiday.” n Ragin is a graduate of Newark Arts High School and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he majored in piano and music education. He made his acclaimed debut in London’s Wigmore Hall in 1984. An artist whose “performances of a diverse repertoire are characterized by an unusual warmth and expressivity,” Ragin has helped to put American countertenors on the map. Ragin’s honors have included a scholarship at age 14 to study at the prestigious Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. In 1982, Ragin received a Fulbright scholarship to study voice in the Netherlands and a year later was awarded first place in the English Purcell-Britten Prize for Concert Singers. In 1986 he won first place in Munich’s 35th International Music Competition. As a renowned “master of the Baroque vocal style,” Ragin’s performance resumé is vast. He has appeared with the Boston Lyric Opera, New York Philharmonic, and Derek Lee Ragin Metropolitan Opera, and internationally has appeared Newark native and internationally-celebrated countertenor Derek Lee Ragin began piano instruction at age 11 with Dorothy Gowdy in the frequently in the UK, in France, and the Netherlands. Ragin is a sought-after singer who has been praised by the Star-Ledger as “among the first American countertenors to dominate the Baroque revival.” For his work in Giulio Cesare with Concerto Köln, Ragin won a 1992 Gramophone Newark Community Center for the Arts’ For his work in Giulio Cesare with Concerto Köln, second year, while also studying piano and voice Ragin won a 1992 Gramophone Award and for his at the Newark Boys Chorus (class of 1972). He has been recognized as the most outstanding soloist in the history of the chorus. work in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, a 1995 Grammy. “One of the foremost countertenors of our day,” Ragin has performed worldwide, singing Handel, Purcell, Copland, Mendelssohn, spirituals and more. Award, and for his work in Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, a 1995 Grammy. 11


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His performance achievements are vast, and include appearances with chamber ensembles and orchestras, in concert halls and opera houses and festivals. He can be heard on numerous recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, Capriccio, Channel Classics Records, Etcetera Records, EMI, Erato Records, Philips Classical, and Telarc. Some of Ragin’s premier recordings include the roles of Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice and Poro in Hasse’s Cleofide, and in the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Missa Brevis. He has recorded a spirituals album, Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit (1991), and can be heard as the voice of Farinelli in the Academy Award nominated film Farinelli. n Frankie Negrón Nuestro Awards for Song of the Year, along with gold and platinum-status album distinctions. Now a household name in the Latino community, Negrón made his Broadway debut at 20 and after a four-week stint with The Capeman, left to support the release of his debut album, Con Amor Se Gana (1997). Negrón “took the Latin music world by storm,” and headlined the 116th Festival in Puerto Rico shortly after his first album release, entertaining an audience of 10,000. In 2000, Negrón played the role of a struggling artist in the South Bronx, in the independent film Boricua’s Bond. Called “the [salsa] genre’s next definitive voice,” by All Music Guide, Negrón’s albums have also received acclaim from The New York Times. In 2009, he appeared on American soap opera One Life to Live and performed songs from his then-upcoming album, Independence Day. Internationally-acclaimed salsa Drawing inspiration from many genres of music, Negrón singer Frankie Negrón studied has been regarded as anything but a salsa traditionalist. voice at NCSA under teacher Seeing the successes of artists such as Bon Jovi, Bruce Nadine Herman. A Puerto-Rican Springsteen, and Queen Latifah gave the young Negrón American native of Newark, the confidence to develop his own style. Negrón captivates Negrón is a graduate of Arts High audiences domestically and abroad with his union of School and Seton Hall University. popular genres like rock and salsa. He reflects, “As strange as it might sound, there was no great Negrón was discovered in 1992 by Newarkborn Paul Simon. Singing with the doo-wop group Base Harmony, Negrón was scouted Negrón “took the Latin music world by storm” divide between the two styles [of rock and salsa].” Negrón continues to reinvent himself. Since joining Greco’s for the 1997 Paul Simon musical The independent label Airgo and singing Capeman. Negrón credits his friendship with in both Spanish and English, Negrón is celebrated among Simon for shaping him as an artist. Negrón has released the young singers who weave pop, gospel, R&B, and nine studio albums, a compilation album, and has earned reggae elements into their salsa. n Grammy and Billboard award nominations, and two Lo 12


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Hsing-ay Hsu Since making her stage debut at age four, Chinese-American pianist Hsing-ay Hsu has performed at such notable venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and abroad in Asia and Europe. A​ s a young immigrant from China during the 1980s, she studied at NCSA with piano teacher Eugene Feigin, her first American teacher in her first American music school. “I​ was greeted by the faculty and staff with much joy and celebration​,” Hsu recalls.​“NCSA provided me with unique opportunities such as my first soloist-with-orchestra debut She was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar of the at age 11, and my first event in the Arts by President Clinton at the White House ritzy Waldorf-Astoria​in New York. All this gave me a sense that everything was possible, and that most people were kind, in this new country. Mr. Feigin challenged me to grow musically in many ways.​ I am so excited to know that NSA is stronger than ever, and that it continues the essential mission of empowering people to pursue artistic excellence!” A Steinway Artist, Hsu is winner of the William Kapell International Piano Competition silver medal, the Ima Hogg National Competition First Prize, the Juilliard William Petschek Recital Award, a McCrane Foundation Artist Grant, a Paul & Daisy Soros Graduate Fellowship Award, and a Gilmore Young Artist Award, among others. She was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar of the In 2016, a new mural was designed and painted on the west wall by students, with support from Newark Celebration 350 and the City of Newark. 13



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