Spotlight on the Florida Artists Hall of Fame nominees, Part I

By Tim Storhoff and Ken Crawford

The Florida Artists Hall of Fame recognizes persons, living or deceased, who have made significant contributions to the arts in Florida either as a performing artist or practicing artist in an individual discipline.  Established by the Florida Legislature in 1986, the Artists Hall of Fame is not only the highest arts award, it is the most prestigious honor that can be bestowed upon an individual in the State of Florida.

Induction into the Hall of Fame is a very prestigious honor—the highest bestowed on an artist by the State of Florida. It is intended for those professional Florida artists who are fully advanced in their careers, have made a significant contribution to the arts in this state, and have received some national or international recognition through their achievements. Inductees typically demonstrate outstanding initiative, excellence among peers, and a profound artistic commitment throughout their lifetime. Visit the official Florida Artists Hall of Fame page for more information on the nomination process and for a complete list of previous inductees.

Twenty-seven artists have been nominated for the 2013 award. As we prepare for the upcoming meeting of The Florida Council on Arts and Culture where they will vote on these nominees, we will be spotlighting them here at the Culture Builds Florida blog.

Today we will spotlight the nominees who have contributed to Florida’s musical culture as recording artists, folk musicians, dancers, and conductors. You will recognize some of these individuals as world-famous performers while others made their contributions to artistic life in Florida outside of the limelight. Below you will find short biographies of the musical nominees, links, and some videos of their performances.

Pat Boone: Singer/Actor – Jacksonville (1934- )
Charles Eugene “Pat” Boone was a successful pop singer during the 1950s and early 1960s. Born in Jacksonville and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, he sold over 45 million albums, had 38 Top 40 hits and appeared in more than 12 Hollywood movies. Boone’s attractive talent as a singer and actor, which combined with his old-fashioned values, contributed to the popularity of early rock and roll. Mr. Boone is also the author of a number of inspirational books, including his No. 1 bestseller in the 1950s, Twixt Twelve and Twenty. In the 1960s, he focused on gospel music and is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He continues to perform, but concentrates mostly on his current role as a motivational speaker and conservative political commentator in California. Mr. Boone still visits Florida annually. To read more about Pat Boone today and hear some of his music, visit www.patboone.com.

Maestro Brooks-Bruzzese. Image courtesy/used by permission of the Symphony of the Americas

Dr. James Brooks-Bruzzese: Symphony Conductor – Ft. Lauderdale (1940- )
Maestro James Books-Bruzzese is the esteemed Artistic Director of the Symphony of the Americas in Fort Lauderdale. A Florida resident for nearly 50 years, the Maestro’s world–class artistic skills and award-winning reputation have called him to represent Florida by conducting major orchestras worldwide. His 24 audio recordings represent the beauty of classical literature, and are also testaments of inter-cultural cooperation among the world’s best known concert artists. Dr. Brooks-Bruzzese is particularly devoted to bringing the heritage of classical music to young people. He mentors students in inner-city and rural Florida schools. In that capacity, Dr. Brooks-Bruzzese established a very successful youth orchestra in Broward County and helped build bridges between continents by bringing his South Florida music education programs to youth in South America. He has been recognized by Florida’s elected officials, presidents, heads of state and dignitaries all over the world for his dedication to art and education. Learn more about Dr. Brooks-Bruzzese at his personal website and at the Symphony of the Americas.

Vassar Clements: Musician/Recording Artist – Kissimmee (1928-2005)
One of this country’s best-known fiddlers, Floridian Vassar Clements was an icon of American music. Though self-taught, his technical musicianship and gifted jazz stylings made him the most-requested sideman in the history of country music. His signature pieces, “Lonesome Fiddle Blues,” “The Kissimmee Kid,” and “Hillbilly Jazz” recall his rural Florida roots. A Grammy Award winner, Mr. Clements toured with many major stars and performed on more than 2,000 recordings, including sessions with Bill Monroe, Stefane Grappelli, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Jimmy Buffet, Tom Petty and countless others. His work on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Circle Be Unbroken” record is the stuff of legend. Popular banjo player Béla Fleck has been known to say in the studio when asking for a cleaner, more pronounced fiddle sound that, “It needs more Vassar.” A creative artist on every level, Mr. Clements was also a great violin teacher. Though he enjoyed a demanding touring schedule into his later years, he nevertheless made time for the development of young artists into strong instrumentalists. Always emphasizing dedication to his instrument, he believed that all professional musicians are responsible for transferring the love of their art, as well as their technique, to the next generation. You can read more about Vassar Clements at his website and check out the video below of him playing “The Kissimmee Kid.”

Gloria Estefan: Singer/Recording Artist – Miami (1957- )
Prominent singer, recording artist, and international star Gloria Estefan has lived in Miami for most of her life. Emigrating from Cuba as a child, Ms. Estefan followed her dream of becoming a professional singer. In 1968 she began her career as a lead singer for the Miami Sound Machine, a popular local Miami band performing at night clubs, festivals and cultural events. Now a Grammy award-winner several times over, Ms. Estefan enjoys a worldwide reputation as a prominent recording artist and film actor. In addition, her contributions to the Florida community include many hurricane relief concerts, AIDS research benefits, and her well-known advocacy work to strengthen Florida boating safety regulations. In addition to a demanding performance and recording schedule, she contributes time and resources to many cultural events. Ms. Estefan frequently champions the importance of arts education for young people. Her artistic and financial contributions to enhance the education of Miami students through the experience of music is well known. You can follow Ms. Estefan on twitter with the handle @GloriaEstefan.

Robert “Bobby” Lord: Recording Artist – Jensen Beach (1934-2008)
An award-winning country music artist and performer, Robert “Bobby” Lord was a popular singer and television show emcee with a long history of Nashville entertainment success in the 1950s and 1960s. His well-known efforts to expand Florida tourism by promoting the state wherever he traveled made a significant difference to the state’s tourist industry at that time. He left the music industry in 1969 at the top of his career to devote more time to his family. Mr. Lord then became a hotel resort developer and business leader, bringing many recreational developments to the Treasure Coast. He frequently performed for community benefits, hospitals, and local fund drives throughout South Florida. His support of student ensembles still continues after his death with significant financial commitments enabling the further education of young artists in the schools, local choruses, and music clubs of Martin County. You can hear him performing with Patsy Cline in the video below.

Tom Petty:  Musician/Recording Artist – Gainesville (1950- )
Thomas Earl Petty was born and raised in Gainesville. In 1961, his uncle brought him to the set of Elvis Presley’s movie Follow That Dream filming in Ocala. This compelled him to begin taking guitar lessons, and he dreamed of being a rock star while working as a groundskeeper at the University of Florida. He soon established a group of local like-minded musicians. Petty and his band began to attract attention under the name of Mudcrutch. Based on local acclaim, they were asked to record two demos of Petty’s compositions at Criteria Studios in Miami, which launched their career. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers now perform at the largest concert halls, have sold more than 60 million record albums, and are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As a songwriter and performer, Tom Petty is a leading figure on the contemporary music scene, and is one of the most recognized and sought-after musicians in the world. His achievements include the “hometown pride” he still engenders throughout Florida for his continued support of various community fundraising efforts. His website is www.tompetty.com.

Yanis Pikieris: Dancer – Miami (1958- )
The long performing and directing career of Principal Dancer Yanis Pikieris includes dancing with major companies such as Ballet du Nord, Ballet Nacional de Caracas, and the Miami City Ballet. He founded two dance companies in Miami, Juegos Del Arte and Maximum Dance. He traveled the world, staging his work and the dance work of other choreographers. His interest in mentoring young dancers is well known. Mr. Pikieris’ dedication to dance education led him to also found the Miami Youth Ballet as a Florida training ground and performing company for tomorrow’s ballet stars. In addition, he serves as a judge in the Presidential Scholars in the Arts program. His ongoing dance staging commitments and frequent role as a contest judge continue to strengthen his international reputation. While providing a bridge for South Florida dance artists to interact with the principal dancers of South America, he still makes his home in Miami, where the school he founded with his wife, the Mencia-Pikieris School of Dance, is located.

Dr. Henry L. Porter: Singer/Music Educator – Sarasota (1948- )
Pastor, singer, choir director, producer and teacher Dr. Henry L. Porter was born and raised in Sarasota, where he is founder and leader of Sarasota’s Westcoast Center for Human Development. A Yale Doctoral Fellow who served as an African Missionary, he has been invited to perform at the White House. He founded the Westcoast Gospel Choir in 1964, performed around the country, and was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2003.  He recorded 17 record albums and has written more than 2,500 songs. Bishop Porter’s commitment to youth and to creative development resulted in his establishment of a K-12 Christian school in Sarasota that has graduated over 500 students; providing young artists a performing arts platform. His Florida prison ministry has brought gospel music sessions to inmates in the state for more than 30 years. He received a commendation from former Governor Jeb Bush in 1999, and the Governor’s Points of Light Award in 2002.

Frank Thomas: Folk Balladeer/Songwriter – Lake Wales (1943- )
Frank Thomas is known as the Dean of Florida Folk Music. He has received the Florida Folk Heritage Award, Jullian Prescott History Award, Florida Historical Society Golden Quill Award, the Stetson Kennedy Foundation Fellow Man & Mother Earth Award, and a state resolution honoring him from former Governor Lawton Chiles, who personally gave a pair of his “walkin’ boots” to Mr. Thomas following the Governor’s campaign trek across Florida. Frank Thomas’s original Florida songs have been performed for decades in every part of the state and in a public radio series. His reputation includes being the patriarch of balladeers at the state’s annual heritage celebration, the Florida Folk Festival, where, as host of the Suwannee River Gazebo Stage, he showcases the state’s finest songwriters. A seven-generation Floridian from a family of farmers and cowmen, his songs are firmly set in the rural history of the land and people of this state. A longtime friend of the Seminole Tribe, he is one of the few invited to remote Tribal gatherings to share songs and stories with native elders. Eminent author and Artist’s Hall of Fame inductee Patrick D. Smith refers to Frank Thomas as…”the unequivocal heir to the soul of Florida folksong.”

We will be covering the rest of the 2013 Florida Artist Hall of Fame nominees throughout the week!

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