Vinton Breakfast Lions sponsor talent competition

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Twelve students performed in the first annual Vinton Breakfast Lions Club Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition. They were (from left): back, Reece Bostic, Savannah Amos, Sarah Christensen, Leeann Williamson, and Riley Rothwell; middle row, Bayla Kessler, Emily Wheeler, Alexis Hough, Victoria Johnson, and Cara Martin; and front row Selene Kelly and Zach Baldwin.
Winners in the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club Bland Scholarship Music Competition were (from left: first place in vocals Savannah Amos, first place instrumentalist Riley Rothwell, second place in instrumentals Zach Baldwin, and second place vocalist Sarah Christensen.

The Vinton Breakfast Lions Club hosted its first Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition at Thrasher Memorial on February 19. Students ages 7 through 18 performed in both vocal and instrumental categories with winners advancing to the regional competition.

Twelve students entered the competition, including six vocalists, one who played the clarinet, and five pianists. Savannah Amos won first place in vocals singing “Maybe This Time” from “Caberet.” Amos is 18 years old and a senior at William Byrd High School. She was accompanied on the piano by her voice teacher Susan Lewis of the Susan Lewis Music Studio.

Sarah Christensen won second place in vocals performing “Popular” from “Wicked.” She is 17 years old and a student at Cave Spring High School. She also studies with Susan Lewis and was accompanied by her.

Pianist Riley Rothwell won first place among the instrumentalists playing “The Storm.” He is 12 years old and in the seventh grade at Read Mountain Middle School. His piano teacher is Carla Ann Fosbre.

Second place in instrumentals went to Zach Baldwin, who is 13 years old and a seventh grader at William Byrd Middle School. His piano teacher is Beth Meador. He performed “Fur Elise.”

Vinton Breakfast Lions President Joel Lytton opened the program with an explanation of the Bland Foundation Music Scholarship program.

The music contest was established by the Lions Clubs of Virginia in 1948 “to assist and promote cultural and educational opportunities for the musically talented youth of Virginia.” Any elementary, junior, or senior high school student is eligible to participate. Over $25,000 is awarded annually in prizes at the local, regional, district, and state level.

The “Bland Contest” is held in honor of songwriter James “Jimmy” Bland, composer of over 700 songs, including “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny,” which was for many years Virginia’s state song.

Bland was born in 1854, a free black American. He taught himself to play the banjo and earned spending money by singing and playing in the streets of Washington, D.C. By age 14, he had become a professional and entertained in hotels and restaurants. He began composing at age 15, writing “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny” when he was 19. He eventually performed for President Grover Cleveland, General Robert E. Lee, and Queen Victoria.

First place winners in the Bland Music Scholarship Competition will advance to the regional competition to be held at Cave Spring United Methodist Church on April 9 at 2 p.m. Winners of the regional competition will go to the Lions District 24E competition, also to be held at Cave Spring United Methodist on April 23 at 2 p.m. Winners there move on to the Lions of Virginia State Competition scheduled for the Lions of Virginia Annual Convention, which will be held at the Hotel Roanoke in May.

Other contestants in the talent show included Reece Bostic playing “Un Bel Di” on the clarinet. He is 16 years old and in the tenth grade at WBHS. His instructor is WBHS Band Director Daniel Plybon.

Alexis Hough sang “O’ the Blood.” She is 18 years old and a senior at William Byrd. She was accompanied by Wanda Melchers.

Victoria Johnson, who is 12 years old and in the sixth grade at Parkway Christian Academy, played “Oh How I Love Jesus” on the piano.

Selene Kelly, also a student of Carla Ann Fosbre, performed the “Russian Sailor Dance” on the piano. She is 7 years old and in the second grade at Bonsack Elementary School.

Bayla Kessler sang “Tomorrow” from “Annie.” She is a Susan Lewis student and attends William Byrd Middle School. She is 14 years old and in the eighth grade.

Cara Martin, who is a student of Carla Ann Fosbre, performed “Prelude in A Minor” on the piano. She is 17 years old and a senior at Northside High School.

Vocalist Emily Wheeler sang “God Bless America,” accompanied by her teacher, Susan Lewis. Wheeler is 15 years old and in the 10th grade at WBHS.

Leeann Williamson, also a Susan Lewis student, performed “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” She is 17 years old and a senior at William Byrd.

Lion Chris McCarty chaired the music competition event. He contacted local music teachers and band directors to recruit musicians to perform in the program.

Bootie Chewning served as master of ceremonies for the talent show.  She commented on the difficulty of choosing the winners from such a talented group of performers and commended all the musicians for their talent and performances, saying, “Anyone who even steps foot on a stage is a winner.”

Lauri Otey Williams was the guest vocalist, performing as the judges tallied their scores. She performed “At Last,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “My Church.” She won the Lions Virginia Bland Scholarship Competition in 1992, starting out with the local contest then sponsored by the Vinton Host Lions Club.

Williams recalled her performance of “Bali Hai” in the competition at the Vinton War Memorial with mishaps when the sheet music for her accompanist fell off the stand midway through the performance and then was replaced upside down; however, she persevered to win.

Judges for this first annual Breakfast Lions Club competition were local ministers and associate ministers of music and music teachers including Barry Green, Minister of Music at Bonsack Baptist Church; piano and vocals teacher Kimberly Faber; Laura Hoal Harrington, Music Director at the Ninth Street Church of the Brethren; Dr. Chris Monroe, Minister of Music at Vinton Baptist; and Dr. Paul Peak, Associate Music Minister at Bonsack Baptist.

The Vinton Breakfast Lions Club was chartered in 1985. Lion Hal Mabe detailed some of their activities for the audience, especially their ongoing eyeglass collection project. The public is asked to donate discarded glasses in the large yellow collection boxes at the Vinton and Bonsack Kroger stores, as well as in several local businesses such as Cundiff Drugs, Grand Rental, Jerry’s Restaurant, the Dogwood Restaurant, Lancerlot, and Olde Colony Realty. The eyeglasses are sorted by prescription by local Lions Club members at the Lions Eyeglass Recyling center in Roanoke and distributed around the world.

The Breakfast Lions also sell brooms as a fundraising project, participate in the White Cane Project, host the annual Pancake Breakfast at the Vinton Fall Festival and the Spaghetti Dinner at the Vinton Christmas Parade, and sponsor a Reverse Raffle each year.

They support Diabetes Awareness, JDRF, the Hearing Foundation at UVA, the Service Dog School, the William Byrd High School JROTC Relay for Life team, William Byrd student scholarships, and a host of other community service projects which come to their attention. The Breakfast Lions make Christmas happier for local children with a shopping trip to Kmart each year.

There are 46,000 Lions Clubs with over 1.4 million members around the world.