1938 - Today
The Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra
Today there is the same dedication and sincerity among the Officers and Board of Directors who, as volunteers, continue to operate a successful organization in the same manner as did its founders. A roster of artists including The Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops, Mantovani and Orchestra, Roberta Peters, Jose' Iturbi, Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet, Isaac Stern, Roger Williams, Jerry Hadley, Denyce Graves, and hundreds of others have been presented by Portsmouth Community Concerts, Inc. Season subscriptions began at a modest cost and have gradually increased in the same fashion until recent years, when memberships were reduced due to a sagging ecomony. Today, citizens of Portsmouth and all neighboring cities are offered these very affordable membership prices.
Special celebrations have taken place in observance of the continued success of the association, the most recent being the "Diamond Jubilee" year in 1998, marking its 60th Anniversary. Founders and charter members were recognized with a commemorative medallion at a gala reception. Commemorative programs entitled "An Invitation to a Diamond Jubilee" were distributed to all subscribers throughout the year.
"Hear ye, hear ye - let's bring to Portsmouth what other cities have - culture!" must have been heard on the street corners and business offices in 1938 as three dedicated individuals went about collecting 300 names of people who would commit their support to a community concert series in Portsmouth. Columbia Concert Artists in New York was reluctant for Portsmouth to have its own series because they were afraid it would be detrimental to the series currently in place with the City of Norfolk. Around 400 Portsmouth people held memberships in the Norfolk Community Concert Association. Suffolk and Newport News also had community concert associations. With persistence, however, Herbert Stewart, Alice Stewart and Ethel Dail obtained the necessary contracts and the 1938/1939 four-concert season opened at the Woodrow Wilson High School on High Street with all but a sell-out. Since then, a series of three, four, five or more concerts has been presented each season. Upon completion of the new Woodrow Wilson High School on Willett Drive, concerts were held in its T. A. Willett Auditorium. Later, the auditorium was renamed Willett Hall and is currently operated by the City of Portsmouth.
1967-1968 ~ 1975-1976
Portsmouth Community Concerts, Inc. has always placed emphasis on music education and has made available discounted and often free tickets for choral and band students in the Portsmouth and Chesapeake schools. Contact continues to be made with the colleges and universities in the surrounding cities offering discounted tickets. Along with encouraging concert attendance, within the last several years, Portsmouth Community Concerts has sponsored educational opportunities for students through outreach programs or master classes which have been conducted by an artist/s engaged to perform during the concert season. Some of the artists involved with these programs have included Epic Brass, The Aspen Wind Quintet, Bridgett Hooks, The Side Street Strutters, a Piano Trio (Navah Perlman, pianist; Zuill Bailey, cellist; and Kurt Nikkanen, violinist), and The River City Brass Band, Jim Witter, Keni Thomas, Young Audiences of Virginia/Eastern Virginia Brass and Destino.
Third Benefit Gala ~ August 23, 1980
Each decade has included new adventures. Collaboration with the Virginia Arts Festival began with The Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force Band, and included Tommy Newsom (alumnus of the Note) as guest artist. Robert McDuffie, violinist, was presented during the third festival in 1996; and noon-time chamber concerts were presented at Trinity Episcopal Church for the second, fourth, and fifth festivals. In 1980, Portsmouth Community Concerts honored Mr. Thomas P. Newsom with an "Honorary Lifetime Membership." This followed a benefit gala for which Tommy was the guest conductor and solo artist of a production entitled, "Tommy Newsom Back Home Again." Following Mr. Newson's retirement from the band of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, he and is wife returned to Portsmouth to make their home. Tommy continued to write arrangements for professional artists and played extensively for benefits and other occasions. PCCI joined Tommy's family, his host of local friends and the music world to express our sadness on April 28, 2007 as we mourned his death following a battle with cancer.
2000-2001 ~ 2003-2004
PCCI was very pleased to invite Miss Denyce Graves to Portsmouth for a second performance in 2003 due to her overwhelming popularity in 2000. It has often been the privilege of PCCI to present very fine artists before they reach their height of popularity and achievement. However, Miss Graves' special performances and recognitions in the past few years, causes her followers to believe she has already reached world success.
PCCI often brings artists back to its stage - usually because of popular demand. Such has been the case with The Tamburitzans, who performed in Portsmouth in 1982, 1985, 1994 and 2006. This colorful and lively ensemble from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania offers irreplaceable family entertainment. Each Tamburitzan is concurrently a full-time student at Duquesne University who also achieves academic excellence while studying in various fields. These young men and women perform the music, songs and dance of Eastern and Southeastern Europe
Throughout the years PCCI has invited outstanding choral groups and ensembles to perform on our stage at Willett Hall including King's Singers, Cantus, American Boychoir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Vienna Boys Choir, Dale Warland Singers, Washington Singers and Gregg Smith Singers. The most notable choral group performing on our stage has been the St. Olaf Choir which first performed here in 2002 and was brought back in 2007 by popular demand. This outstanding a cappella choir filled our house with subscribing members, interested school students, church choir members from the area, as well as many St. Olaf alumni from cities encompassing Hampton Roads.
PCCI has brought not only outstanding American artists and groups to our series through the years, but has also presented international groups to the Willett Hall stage. Those groups include the French Chamber Orchestra, Russian State Symphony Orchestra, Russian Seasons Dance Company, Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the Russian State Chorus. In 2005, Irish singer Mary Black, well known for her blend of Celtic and American Folk Music, brought an unusually fine audience of followers of Irish and folk music to Willett Hall.
In recent years, it has not been possible for arts organizations to pay artists and other costs through subscriptions and ticket sales, and therefore, it has been necessary to venture into the community for corporate and individual assistance. The response from local grant requests and corporate sponsorships has allowed the association to present top professional artists. A deep gratitude continues to be expressed to each generous supporter. Thanks are also expressed to the loyal and consistent subscribers who have helped make Portsmouth Community Concerts, Inc. one of the longest standing community concert associations in the nation.
The River City Brass Band
1998-1999 ~ 2000-2001
The same purpose, goals and objectives, established in the formative years continue today and are highlighted in the statement that follows: "The mission of Portsmouth Community Concerts is to promote appreciation for the performing arts by presenting a series of diverse concerts by professional artists from the nation and the world and by providing educational opportunities to students." The Virginia Symphony, founded and housed in Norfolk since 1920, graced the Willett Hall stage for PCCI in 2007 when the orchestra accompanied Franc D'Ambrosio. Mr. D'Ambrosio presented "Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway - Songs From The Great White Way" together with his captivating "Music of the Night" from "The Phantom of the Opera" which he performed