Dec. 4, 2004 When the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra presents its annual Christmas concert this year, it will be paying musical tribute to the "godmother" of the group, Leona Bryant. Bryant has been a loyal supporter of the Rising Stars program from its inception.
The group was founded by Territorial Court Judge Vern Hodge in 1981 to help prevent school dropout and juvenile delinquency.
"He was disturbed by kids who dropped out of school. He was looking for something to hold their attention, so he turned to music," says Bryant. "If they didn't get a passing grade, there was no playing in the band. Instead, those students were tutored until they got a passing grade. The judge knew every child by name."
It was Bryant who emceed the first Christmas concert by the Rising Stars, and every one after until 2002. During those 21 years, she helped put the youth steel pan orchestra on the world-wide stage.
"In 1989 after Hurricane Hugo, everyone thought the Virgin Islands were wiped off the map," Bryant remembers. "I spoke to an advertising agency to find out what we could do. The Rising Stars went to New York to give a concert. We brought back $27,000 to give to the Hotel and Tourism Association."
Bryant also went along with the Rising Stars when they played in the Rose Bowl Parade, and another trip took her with the band to Taiwan. "It's been a tremendous experience," Bryant says.
In addition to her involvement with the Rising Stars, Bryant has touched many people in the Virgin Islands over the years. She hosted several television programs on Channel 10, including "Women's Page," "Leona's World," "Youth Wants to Know" and "Time Out for Beauty." She also worked as a secretary to three government secreteries, served as the Director of Tourism, and until earlier this year, hosted a talk show on Radio One. "I was meant to do everything," she says. "I cannot stand by idle."
Through the years, Bryant shared her duties as mistress of ceremony with Addie Ottley and Irving "Brownie" Brown. The trio called themselves the "Nenie and Pepes of the troops," using local names for "godmother" and "godfather."
"I wish we had 10 other organizations on each island that would take a dedicated interest in our young people for extracurricular activities. It would give the children the feeling someone cares about them."
Now it's Bryant's turn to feel the love. "This is our way of saying thank you. She was like the mom of the band, the godmother of the children," says Lauris Questel of the Territorial Court. "I'm hoping a lot of people will support the Rising Stars. These children are our future, and we plan to put on a great show."
About 100 students will participate in the Christmas concert. The orchestra will perform classical selections and traditional Christmas music that has been arranged by Wayne Donadelle, Elvino "Sifu" George, William Haynes, Sean Steele, Ralph "Rabbi" Felix and Eltino "Tino" Pickering, all Rising Stars instructors and arrangers. Guest performances will be by the Cool Sax Quartet under the direction of Neils Gooding, Dober Elementary School Choir under the direction of Malvern Gumbs, and the male singing group, All the Way.
The Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra's Annual Christmas Concert will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on St. Thomas. Santa Claus will visit during intermission with gifts for the children in the audience.
Tickets for the event are available at Krystal and Gifts Galore at Tutu Park Mall, Modern Music in Havensight, Nisky Pharmacy and Reichhold Center for the Arts. Tickets are $15 for covered seats, and $10 and $5 for the uncovered section.
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