Performing Arts: Honoring Trailblazers

by patrickmccoy

Rashida Jolley and Chrisette Michelle were celebrated at The Young and The Powerful’s Ball.

Washington native and Lady Gaga band member Rashida Jolley was once referred to as a “head-banging harpist.” (Photo courtesy of Rashida Jolley)

Often times for big civic occasions, performers are called upon to simply entertain an audience. Among the numerous local balls in celebration of the 2013 inauguration was The Dream Black Tie Gala hosted by The Young and Powerful Group, a national organization of political movers and shakers, at the trendy Mansion on O Street in Dupont. Native Washingtonian harpist, and Lady Gaga band member, Rashida Jolley, and the Grammy Award-winning R & B singer/songwriter Chrisette Michelle were among the recent recipients of the organization’s 2013 National Trailblazers Award. Other honorees included Congressman Cedric Richmond, Christopher J. Tyson, Stefanie Brown, and Jeremiah Pope. It seemed fitting that these artists be honored in conjunction with the Inauguration as President and First Lady Obama have been very supportive of the arts.

Jolley comes from a long heralded tradition of musicians. Her father, the late Noble Jolley Sr., was the first musician to earn the degree in jazz studies at Howard University. She’s known for her unique combination of classical harp with popular styles, and was once described in a Washington Post review as a “head-banging harpist.” When she is not traveling, the harpist is often spotted in the local community performing at events and mentoring young budding performers. Her humble musical start began in the church at age 7, as she performed vocal solos. At age 10, she began studying the harp as a member of the D. C. Youth Orchestra. Most recently, she was a contestant on NBC’s hit show “America’s Got Talent,” and was featured in the HBO Documentary “HBO Presents Lady Gaga in The Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Garden.”

Similarily to Jolley, Michelle also got her musical start in the church. Growing up in New York, she watched her mother lead the choir and eventually she conducted the gospel choir in high school. She honed her skills  at Five Towns College in Dix Hills, graduating with a vocal performance degree.

Since 2008, The Young and Powerful Group has attracted exceptional leaders between the ages of 21- 35, committed to change and social justice.

Petersburg, Va. native Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va.  He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price.  McCoy  has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our  time, including Renée Fleming, Denyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.   Listen to these interviews and others  at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.


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