THE WORLD IN OUR CITY:  The 2023 Annual Washington Performing Arts Gala was an extraordinary celebration of both the local and global impact of the arts amid the opulence of the National Building Museum.

LEAD PHOTO:  Singer Rayshun Lamarr dazzles the crowd at the pre-gala VIP reception. ( PHOTO CREDIT:  Kalorama Photo)

by Patrick D. McCoy

Honoree Jacqueline Badger Mars, Mars, Inc. (center) with WPA President and CEO Jenny Bilfield, Brad Figel, Mars, Inc. Senior Counsel, Corporate Affairs and Gala Co-Chairs Rudy Burwell and Mona Mohib.  PHOTO CREDIT:  Kalorama Photo.


There is certainly something to be said about the power of music to bring a diverse array of people together. Ironically, the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic sort of did the same thing virtually three years ago.  Looking back, Washington Performing Arts was probably one of the first Washington, D.C. organizations to offer a gala virtually in the midst of the trying times of the pandemic.  The recent event may have been the first full scale affair for some since the onset of COVID.  It is often said that there is nothing like gala season in D.C. and that certainly was the feeling as the most glamorous patrons of the arts gathered beneath the towering columns and majestic ceilings of the National Building Museum.  CBS News Correspondent Christina Ruffini served as the evening’s celebrity emcee and kept the proceedings moving along with a sweet humor!

Gala Honoree Jacqueline Badger Mars shares a moment with gala performer Christylez Bacon. PHOTO: Kalorama Photo

Much creativity happened during the pandemic, but one of the main points of the celebration was happening well before the pandemic.  This year’s gala honored the generosity and support of Mars Incorporated.  Bringing together the artistry of the local artist to the world stage, the partnership of Washington Performing Arts and candy heiress Jacqueline Badger Mars has been vital to the sustainability of artists, especially during the pandemic.  As a part of the gala, it was quite special to experience the performances live and in person. Highlights of the evening included the performance of the Washington Performing Arts Gospel Choirs, marking their 30th anniversary under the direction of Maestra Michele Fowlin, the Vision Duo comprised of percussion/violin and certainly the Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon who musically curated the evening’s theme “The World in Our City” with his masterfully nuanced rhythmic command of spoken word and musical creativity with his ensemble. The gala audience found themselves chanting “The World in Our City” randomly throughout the evening.

From Left to Right: Wesley Delaine Thomas, Eric T. Jones and Eric E. Richardson join Jenny Bilfield for a photo at the Pre-Gala VIP reception. PHOTO CREDIT: Kalorama Photo



Solomon Mahlatini was featured as this year’s gala painter, creating a live work. (PHOTO: Kalorama Photo)








In addition to the musical arts, visual art was celebrated with the presence of featured painter Solomon Mahlatini.  Enjoying a full circle moment in his career, Mahlatini recently had several showings of his art in DC after his initial gallery debut in the Nation’s Capital several years ago.  For the Washington Performing Arts Gala, he created a live piece titled “Lady Potomac”  in celebration of the gala’s theme.

The gala is just a month ahead of the 10 year anniversary of the organization’s President and CEO Jenny Bilfield.  Bilfield has certainly continued to embody the inclusive spirit of Washington Performing Arts Founder Patrick Hayes. Through the rebranding of the organization early on in her tenure to the increased opportunities for ‘home grown’ artists.  With a legion of loyal supporters the event raised more than $700,000 to benefit the arts education, gospel programming, and presenting season and Mars Arts DC performances of Washington Performing Arts.

*A special thank you to Charlotte Cameron for having me as her invited seated guest.


President and CEO Jenny Bilfield (4th from left) with the Washington Performing Arts Team. CREDIT: Kalorama Photo


THE SPECTACULAR VENUE:  The National Building Museum

A native of Petersburg, VA, Patrick holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and a MM in Church Music from Shenandoah Conservatory. Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications and organizations, including The Washington Post, Early Music America, Classical Music Voice North America, The Afro-American Newspaper, Prince George’s Suite Magazine, CBS Washington and Most recently, he was named as a new contributor to Washington Classical Classical Review. He holds membership in the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., American Choral Directors’ Association, Association of Anglican Musicians, a former member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors, a member of the Shenandoah University Black Alumni Network and a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Just recently he was named to the Dean’s Circle of the Shenandoah Conservatory Advisory Board.  He serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD and is Interim Director of Choral Activities and Instructor of Music at Virginia State University. Visit and follow him on twitter @PatrickDMcCoy, IG: PDM06. and subscribe to “Across the Arts” on YouTube.