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Vinton Breakfast Lions host annual Bland Music Scholarship competition

By Debbie Adams

The Vinton Breakfast Lions Club hosted their fifth annual Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church on March 7. Thirteen contestants participated in vocal and instrumental performances, all students of the Susan Lewis Music Studio.

Thirteen local musicians competed in the annual Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition sponsored by the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club. Shown left to right front row are: Ryleigh Woolwine, Aubri Kessler, Emily Mower, and Lily Sealey; middle row, Andrea Gonzalez, Sofia Gonzalez, Abby Shelton, Cary Jones, and Chloe Hopkins; and back row, music teacher Susan Lewis, Alexis Williamson, Latriva Pierce, Paul Sealey, Simon Sealey, and judges Bob Schmucker and Kimberly Wilbourn. Judges Dr. Chris Monroe and Josh O’Dell are not pictured. (photos by Debbie Adams)

Pianist Latriva Pierce won first place in the instrumental category, performing “Trisha’s Lullaby.” She is a junior at William Byrd High School.

Local students competed in the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club annual Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition at Thrasher Memorial on March 7. Winners in the instrumental category were (left to right): third place winner Chloe Hopkins, second place winner Andrea Gonzalez, and first place winner Latriva Pierce.

Abby Shelton placed first in the vocal category, singing “Think of Me.” She is a home-schooled senior.

Abby Shelton won first place in the vocal category at the annual Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition sponsored by the Vinton Breakfast Lions Club. Shelton was accompanied by music teacher Susan Lewis.

Second place in the instrumental division went to Andrea Gonzalez, who performed “Little Prelude in C Minor.” She is a senior at William Byrd and at the Burton Center for Arts and Technology.

Third place in instrumentals went to Chloe Hopkins, a high school junior, who played “Cossack Ride.”

Second place in vocal performance went to Simon Sealey, a junior at Hidden Valley High School, who sang, “Waving Through a Window.”

Third place in vocals was awarded to Paul Sealey, a freshman at Hidden Valley, who performed “Irish Blessing.”

Winners in the vocal category in the Bland Foundation Music Scholarship Competition were (left to right), third place winner Paul Sealey, second place winner Simon Sealey, and first place winner Abby Shelton.

Pierce and Shelton, as first place winners, will advance to the Lions Club Regional Competition to be held on May 16 at Community Church in Salem.

Regional winners then advance to the Lions of Virginia State Competition in June, where 12 contestants compete.

First place winners at the local level receive $100, second place winners, $50, and third place winners, $25.

Other participants in this year’s Bland Music Scholarship Competition were:

  • Ryleigh Woolwine, a third grader, singing, “Sayonara”
  • Lily Sealey, a fourth grader, playing “Overture from William Tell”
  • Aubri Kessler, a third grader, singing “My Favorite Things”
  • Emily Mower, a fifth grader, singing “Top Secret Personal Beeswax”
  • Cary Jones, a seventh grader, playing “The Entertainer”
  • Sofia Gonzalez, a seventh grader, singing “Some Things Never Change,” and
  • Alexis Williamson, a sophomore, singing “Beautiful Ghosts”

Judges for this year’s competition were Dr. Chris Monroe, Josh O’Dell, Bob Schmucker, and Kimberly Wilbourn. Dr. Monroe is the Minister of Music at Vinton Baptist Church. O’Dell is the Minister of Music at Thrasher Memorial. Schmucker is a singer/songwriter who runs the popular 3rd Street Coffeehouse, which features regional and national touring folk and Americana performers every Friday night. He writes and performs his own brand of Chicago and Texas-inspired folk and Americana music. Wilbourn teaches piano and vocal lessons in the Roanoke Valley.

Lions Club Vice District Governor Eric Mills again served as Master of Ceremonies for the competition. He has been a member of the Lions Club since 1986 and will become District Governor this summer in a district with about 60 Lions clubs.

Mills noted how refreshing it was to be able to hear the musicians perform in-person with their “amazing talent,” after a year of pandemic restrictions. He thanked Breakfast Lions President Chris McCarty and Secretary Gary Myers for their efforts in organizing and facilitating the event.

The Breakfast Lions thanked music teacher Susan Lewis for her support of the competition each year by encouraging her students to enter—especially considering this year’s challenges.

Mills shared the history of the Bland Music Foundation Music Scholarship Competition and some facts about the Vinton Breakfast Lions.

The Bland competition was established by the Lions Clubs of Virginia in 1948 to “assist and promote cultural and educational opportunities for the musically talented youth of Virginia.” Any elementary, middle, or high school student is eligible to participate. Over $25,000 is awarded annually in prizes at the local, district, and state level. At the state level, first place winners receive $2500; second place winners, $2000; third place winners, $1500; and fourth through sixth places, $1000.

The “Bland Contest” is held in honor of songwriter James “Jimmy” Bland, composer of over 700 songs, including the former State Song, “Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny,” which he wrote at age 19. He was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1970.

Bland was born in 1854 as a free black American. He taught himself to play the banjo and earned spending money by singing and playing on the streets of Washington, D.C. By age 14, he had become a professional musician and entertained in hotels and restaurants. He began composing at age 15. He eventually performed for President Grover Cleveland and Queen Victoria.

Mills told the audience there are approximately 46,000 Lions Clubs in over 200 countries, with over 1.4 million members around the world—one of the largest service organizations in the world.

The Vinton Breakfast Lions Club was chartered in 1985. Its members serve the community in many ways throughout the year. They sponsor many fundraising events including a Pancake Breakfast during the Vinton Fall Festival and their Spaghetti Dinner traditionally prior to the Vinton Christmas Parade. Lions are well-known for their broom sales and the White Cane Project which provides support for eyeglasses and eye exams for needy children, the Old Dominion Eye Bank, and Leader Dogs for the Blind.

One of their largest fundraisers is the Reverse Raffle. Proceeds from all Breakfast Lions’ fundraisers go back into the local community and communities across the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

The club awards scholarships each spring to seniors at William Byrd High School and Staunton River High School. When the Vinton Host Lions disbanded a few months ago, the Breakfast Lions took over sponsorship of the Leo Club at William Byrd.

The Breakfast Lions maintain the bright yellow eyeglass collection boxes in various Vinton locations. Donated eyeglasses are sorted by prescription by local Lions members at the Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center in Roanoke and then distributed around the world. Approximately 100,000 pairs of eyeglasses are processed annually at the Roanoke center–the largest processing center on the East Coast and one of only about 11 in the nation.

A main focus of Lions is youth. Each year the Breakfast Lions sponsor a Christmas Shopping trip for about 20 students at Herman L. Horn, W. E. Cundiff, and Bonsack Elementary schools. Each child receives about $120 in clothing, shoes, and a toy. The Lions also donate school supplies to the elementary schools and art supplies to William Byrd High School.

Breakfast Lions support Diabetes Awareness, the Hearing Foundation at UVA, JDRF, and more.

In the Vinton community, the Breakfast Lions have been the leaders in the preservation of the historic Gladetown Cemetery, in building a picnic shelter for the community at Herman L. Horn Elementary, and in making plans for a recreational project at the old Vinton Swimming Pool. Plans are in the works for bus shelters at Kroger and PFG.

Lions International supports worldwide humanitarian efforts such as their “One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative,” and their campaign to eradicate River Blindness which destroys vision, through partnering with drug companies to distribute medications.

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