On Tuesday January 16, 2018 at the Harlem Stage Winter Benefit Gala, the legendary uptown venue that for over 30 years has been promoting the creative legacy of Harlem and artists of color, held a special winter benefit performance to honor the life and work of Ella Fitzgerald. The intimate evening featured jazz icon Dee Dee Bridgewater and singing sensation Wé McDonald, of The Voice fame, as they paid tribute to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald in honor of her centennial. Wé McDonald was accompanied by organ and piano prodigy Matthew Whitaker.
In the spirit of the best traditions in jazz, both artists performed their own inimitable interpretations of the songs made famous by Ella, including “Cry Me A River,” “On A Slow Boat to China,” “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Mack The Knife,” among many others. The VIP after party was held at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise Gallery at 439 W. 127th Street from 9:30pm to 11:00pm.
Special guests from other uptown performing arts institutions included Stefon Harris of Manhattan School of Music and Eric Pryor, President of Harlem School of the Arts. Also in attendance was Harlem Stage board president and famed actor, director and producer Tamara Tunie, along with longstanding Harlem Stage Executive Director, Patricia Cruz and newly appointed Director of Programming, Monique Martin.
This special event supports Harlem Stage’s critical mission to exclusively commission and present works by visionary artists of color and also supports the thousands of New York City schoolchildren Harlem Stage serves each year through the Frances Davis/Harlem Stage Arts Education Program.
Over the course of a multifaceted career spanning four decades, Grammy and Tony Award-winning Jazz giant Dee Dee Bridgewater has ascended to the upper echelon of vocalists, putting her unique spin on standards, as well as taking intrepid leaps of faith in re-envisioning jazz classics. Ever the fearless voyager, explorer, pioneer and keeper of tradition, the three-time Grammy-winner most recently won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee. Bridgewater’s career has always bridged musical genres. She earned her first professional experience as a member of the legendary Thad Jones/Mel Louis Big Band, and throughout the 70’s she performed with such jazz notables as Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Dizzy Gillespie. Releasing a series of critically-acclaimed CD’s, all but one, including her wildly successful double Grammy Award-winning tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Dear Ella – have received Grammy nominations. Her newest CD “Memphis…Yes, I’m Ready” was released in September 2017.
Wé McDonald is a Harlem native, who grew up taking vocal lessons at Harlem School of the Arts. She has performed at The Apollo and was a contestant on The Voice, where she received much acclaim from the judges and audience. McDonald credits the late singer Etta James as one of her biggest influences along with Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Janice Joplin and Billie Holiday. In 2017, Wé McDonald was the recipient of the inaugural Harlem Stage Emerging Artist Award.
At just 16, Matthew Whitaker is a piano prodigy. He was the 1st place winner at Apollo for Fox TV’s revival of Showtime at the Apollo in 2016 and has been on National and International television which includes an appearance on Ellen. In January 2017, he was named one of the 17 people to watch in New Jersey by The Record, one of New Jersey’s largest newspapers. He has toured at stages here in the US and around the world including: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall, and Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC; SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC and many more. He has performed with an array of outstanding musicians including but not limited to: Ray Chew, Christian McBride, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Rhoda Scott, Cameron Carpenter and Regina Carter.