Conductor, pianist, producer and recording artist Damien L. Sneed recently received the 2014 Sphnix Medal of Excellence honor, alongside Pedrito Martinez and Carla Dirlikov. The annual Sphinx Medals of Excellence honor extraordinary Black and Latino leaders in music who, early in their careers, demonstrate artistic excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and leadership. The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, the Aspen Institute Arts Program and the Sphinx Organization presented the medals at an exclusive luncheon at the Kennedy Center. Kathy Kruse of the Kennedy Center and Adam Erickson of the Aspen Institute welcomed the guests, and the awards were presented by Sphinx founder, Aaron P. Dworkin, and Sphinx board members Ken Fischer,president of the University Musical Society and Sandra Gibson, consulting advisor to the DeVos Institute for Arts Leadership at the Kennedy Center. In addition, the Sphinx Organization presented each honoree with a $50,000 career grant to further their professional pursuits.
Later that evening, Sneed and the other honorees were invited to The Supreme Court of the United States by Justice Sonia Sotomayor for a private black-tie dinner hosted by Justice Sotomayor and the Sphinx Organization. Justice Sotomayor introduced each honoree. Sneed performed a five minute piano solo of Margaret Bonds’ Troubled Water; Carla Dirlikov performed Habanera from George Bizet’s Carmen and Xavier Montsalvatge’s Canto Negro and Pedrito Martinez performed a percussion solo of Cuban’s The Tradition.
“Being a recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence is humbling, and also bestows a great weight of responsibility to continue my pursuit of musical artistry at the highest level possible,” says Sneed. “Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 will forever be marked in my heart and mind as a definitive point of exponential expansion because the Sphinx honor has catapulted me forward into my destiny and purpose.”
Early this week, Sneed performed at (Duke) Ellington’s Sacred Music concert presented by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in collaboration with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Duke Ellington was a man of faith; he was deeply religious. The Ellington Sacred Music concert blended elements of jazz and classical music with African American spirituals and gospel music. The Sacred Music concert featured over 200 high school students as singers and instrumentalists, including members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra and Sneed’s Chorale Le Chateau. There was a chorus that combined choral groups from the Bronx High School of Music, the Forest Hills High School, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, the Songs of Solomon Inspirational Ensemble, the Talent Unlimited High School and Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Conducted by jazz composer and arranger David Berger, the concert also included GRAMMY® Award-winning recording artist Lalah Hathaway; opera singer Nicole Cabell; trombonist and composer Vincent Gardner; actor, singer and writer Rufus Bonds; legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath; trumpet player Sean Jones; and Emmy Award winner and acclaimed tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith.
“What makes this opportunity special is what you see in the eyes of the young people,” says Sneed. “You see their innocence, their trust in everything that you say, and their desire to grow and to be stretched. These moments in their lives are extremely important, whether they decide to become performing artists or not. The experiences that they received in this program and from the music will be a part of their futures no matter what they do. The students were thrilled to perform on a stage where so many great artists have been before them.”