A tribute to Lillette Jenkins-Wisner, dubbed “Queen of the Keys” by Nat King Cole, was held at the Fort Harrison in downtown Clearwater on Saturday June 15th. The event was also a fundraiser for the Lillette Foundation for the Arts, a 501c3 organization that promotes knowledge and continued development of promising students of the performing arts while assisting with their financial needs.
The audience was on its feet when Lillette Jenkins-Wisner took the stage. Silence reigned as she fingered the grand piano and said, “Keys are here. Let’s see what I can get out of them.”
To say that she tickled the keys as she played “Sundown,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Satin Doll,” would be an understatement. She caressed, cajoled, teased those keys, seducing the audience with her magic and exciting them into an enchanted frenzy. When this 90 year old woman came back later to play “Clair de’ Lune” and “Flight of the Bumblebee” with its frantic pace and nearly uninterrupted runs of chromatic sixteenth notes, the audience was truly thankful they were there to witness such musical adeptness.
Lillette, as a child prodigy in New York, had the opportunity to develop her talents. She was trained in classical music at Julliard and New York University. In her career, which included United Service Organizations military tours, film (“The Cotton Club” starring Richard Gere), TV (“All My Children”) Broadway and worldwide concerts, she shared the spotlight with artists such as Cab Calloway, Dule Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, Eubie Blake and Billy Joel. Her versatility includes classical, gospel, ragtime and jazz, all of which she performs to this day.
Lillette’s son, Clifford Jenkins, flew in from New York help pay tribute to his mother. He said her life was one of dedication to the joy of music. “Massage your dreams,” she would say, “give hope.” Giving hope is the reason for her Foundation of the Arts. Now, more than ever, with arts programs losing funding throughout the country, children need scholarships so they can go forward with their dreams.
Master of Ceremonies, Maurice Mickens, CEO of Mt. Carmel Community Development Corporation and member of the Clearwater MLK, Jr. Neighborhood Coalition, who grew up in New York City Harlem – the home of jazz. He expressed his joy of have Lillette here for the evening as well as members of the group Au’Niece, (Michele Harris-Carter (Lillette’s daughter) and Toni Stargell (Lillette’s granddaughter). They performed several rhythm and blues with four dancers from the foundation, backed up by a four-piece band. As well two singers, well known to this area, Katt Heffner and her daughter Dana Merriwether wowed the crowd.
Some 200 people attended the event, including ministers and parishioners from local churches, a board member of the University of South Florida, Ms. Jenkins-Wisner’s very large extended family, the publishers of Tampa Bay Magazine, a former mayor of neighboring Dunedin, as well executives and staff from two local companies
Pat Harney, the Public Affairs Director, welcomed the guests on behalf of the Church of Scientology, saying how delighted the Church is to open up the historic Fort Harrison to Lillette’s Foundation for the Arts and other non-profit and community groups.
Previous to the show, Lillette was interviewed on national Daytime TV and they aired a 6-minute show on Friday the 14th. This show goes to 140 stations in the US with a viewership of 1.4 million.
To learn more about Lillette’s Foundation for the Arts and how you can help, go to http://lillettesfoundation.webs.com/.