A Conversation with Denyce Graves

denyce2Acclaimed Mezzo Soprano
Performs at the Living Legends Awards
By Markus Williams

On February 22, 2014 at 6 P.M. the Human Symphony Foundation will presents the ninth annual Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity. Each year as I approach the honored task of assembling the program I am guided by our expectation of having performances of the highest quality and at the same time, have something significant to say. It is always the goal of the program not only to celebrate the best of humanity but also to inspire others to be builders of humanity. I can think of no better way to do this than with the use of the arts. This year to help us accomplish this goal we are honored to have one of the world’s leading voices Denyce Graves. I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to be working with such an artist. She is in possession of a voice that is rich and always beautiful accompanied by an unparalleled sense of artistry. As an accomplished artist who continues to give of herself beyond the concert stage it is fitting that she would be our guest artist and recipient of our inaugural award The Human Symphony Foundation Award for Service to the Arts. I recently had the privilege of catching up with Denyce Graves to talk about her appearance with us.

Thank you for taking time to talk to me about your upcoming performance at the Living Legends Awards. You have established yourself as one of the major voices of our time, when did you know this is what you wanted to do?
I heard a recording of Leontyne Price when I was 14 years old and at that very moment, even though I had NO idea that I might be able to sing, I said, “That’s what I want to do”, “I want to sing like that!”.
How are you balancing life as a mother, wife, performer and now your teaching at the Peabody Conservatory?
How am I balancing life as a mother, wife, performer and teacher…………. Hmmmmm, the jury’s still out on that!
Some days I am more successful than others, some days I nail it and feel like a super hero and then there are days that I fail miserably and think, “What am I doing with my life”
You have been one of the world’s most celebrated Carmens but I know you have quite a broad range of musical interest. What excites you as an artist?
What excites me as an artist is whatever is truthful and raw. I’m moved by nakedness,
vulnerability, fragility and surrender.
How have you evolved as an artist since making your professional début?
I am still evolving but I think I’m more centered now as a performer. My instrument has changed and grown and still challenges me at times and there are other times when I can really enjoy my voice and the joy of singing. I am more present than ever.

Part of your performance at the Living Legends Awards will be the premiere of “The Moment I Fly” a piece that articulates the journey to success. How important is preparation for success?
I think every performer and artist wants to do their best always, so preparation is the key to success.
“The Moment I fly” is a world premiere written especially for The Living Legends Event so already much attention has been given as this is its anchor piece and the Anthem of the program so I want to get it right.
As you know the Living Legends Awards is focusing on education and who gets to “fly” into
their destiny. What are some of your hopes for education?
I believe that education is THE key to our individual success and to the success of our Nation.
My hope is that education takes centre stage and is funded and supported, so that it lights the way for a better and stable world.
You have said that a major reason you have become what you are is because of a teacher you had in elementary and middle school. Who was this teacher and what did she do?
AH, yes, the teacher that I had who guided me on the path that I’m presently on is Ms. Judith Grove Allen. She was my elementary, Jr high and high school teacher.
She introduced me to serious music and it changed me forever.
Clearly there is a great power with teachers and schools to influence the course of lives. The national conversation regarding education has been about bad teachers and failing schools without the mention of community and home life. How does this affect the students ability to fly into their destiny?
The adage “It takes a village” comes to mind here. We all have a responsibility to every child and to each other. Community and Home life are very important and it permanently shapes us. There are people who can thrive and rise above very challenging home lives and surrounding environments. Kindness, respect and education are key.
The idea behind the Human Symphony Foundation is that we are all members of this symphony of humanity and the dignity of each person is our melody. That being said, for students with limited opportunities living outside of hope, what should be our collective response as a society?
Our response ,as we are able, should be to reach out, give back and stretch outside of our comfort zones.
How do you feel about your upcoming performance with the Living Legends Awards and being recipient of the first Human Symphony Foundation Award for Service to the Arts.
I’m so honored to be acknowledged from the HUMAN Symphony Foundation. To be a good human being has always been my prayer. The Arts have blessed my life and continues to do so, and I hope that I am able through the beauty of music making be a blessing to others.
Thank you for taking time to do this interview and for lending your voice and presence to this cause. I’m looking forward to your performance.
I too, am excited about our upcoming performance. Thank you for this gift to my life.

You Can Make a Difference!









The Human Symphony Foundation will stage the 9th annual Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity on February 22nd, 2014. The event is themed Education: Where Shall I fly? HSF will honor five individuals who build Humanity through their contributions to the field of Education.

Your contribution will help keep the Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity free and accessible to everyone. All funds received will go toward the production of the event. This year we invite you to not only attend this life-changing event, but to also be a part of making it happen. You can make a difference. Help make this year’s awards the turning point for someone you wish to inspire. Contribute now!

The 2014 AwardsEducation: Where Shall I Fly?

Join us as we continue the conversation!

Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 2:00pm

The Human Symphony Foundation & WAU present -
An Education Forum at:

The Leroy & Lois Peters Music Center
Washington Adventist University,
Takoma Park, MD 20912

2013 Living Legend Awards Livestream!



2013 Honoree Awards



The Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity

2013 Honorees


six o’clock in the evening
formal attire

featuring the
and presenting


For more information go to:
Or Call 443-364-8059


*To see a livestream of the event click here.

Living Legend Awards

The Human Symphony Foundation presents

The Living Legends Awards For Service to Humanity

Saturday, February 23, 2013
six o’clock in the evening

For More Information go to
or call 443-364-8059

Seventh-day Adventist Church
18800 New Hampshire Avenue, Ashton, MD 20861

Doreen A. K. Hines, Executive Director
Markus Williams, Artistic Director

Living Legends Awardee Leymah Gbowee wins Nobel Peace Prize!

It was 6:30am, I was awakened by the sound of the telephone.  An excited voice on the other end said “Leymah Gbowee was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!”  It was my colleague and Artistic Director, Markus Williams, his excitement was contagious.  I jumped out of the bed and on to the internet to follow the story as it unfolded.  I knew then I would get precious little done that day.

Markus and I recounted the day he brought her name to my attention and we decided to invite her to be one of our 2010 Living Legends Awards recipient.   We rehashed the conversations that took place when we realized her engagement in the US had cancelled and in order for her to be here we had to fly her from Ghana.   Then I remembered the warmth and generosity of our donors who stepped up donated sufficient funds to make her appearance here possible.

As a result of our research and Markus’ knowledge of the world, Leymah Gbowee spent an evening with us.  I don’t believe the full impact of her award from the Nobel Committee hit home until I received a call from a friend who was effusive in her encouragement for the Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity event.  She related that her 10 year old was watching the news and shouted “Mommy, Mommy, that’s my friend”  when she  entered the room she realized that not only did her 10 year girl know Leymah , she had a personal note that Leymah Gbowee had written on the occasion of  her visit.  Leymah Gbowee is only 1 of 15 women honored with a Nobel Prize in the history of the awards.

It has always been the goal of the Living Legends Awards for service to Humanity to expose people to individuals around the world that are making a difference, in the hope that we might be inspired to do just that in our own corners.  We have endeavored to bring, not just the names that are popular but those who often go unnoticed, those who in their everyday life change the world one person at a time. The fact that the world has now celebrated Leymah Gbowee’s work for peace by the awarding of the Nobel Prize lets us know that our decisions have indeed been inspired.

Leymah Gbowee travelled for 2 days to get to Maryland.  The evening of the awards, she was picked up at the airport and headed directly to the venue.  She was exhausted but her humble spirit and passion for peace, led her to deliver one of the best acceptance speeches ever delivered!  It is significant that in her speech she said that she may not ever receive the Nobel Prize and she accepted the Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity, as her Nobel.

Well, she now has her Nobel and thanks to The Living Legends Awards, she has a warm place in her heart for The Human Symphony Foundation. The awards ceremony is hosted by the Emmanuel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ashton, MD. This quote is taken from an interview posted in June of 2010 with “Yes” magazine.

Kwami: You, the Liberian women, and the producers of Pray the Devil Back to Hell have won several awards. Which of these recognitions have been most meaningful for you?

Leymah: I place a high value on all the awards that I have received. But the one that really touched me as an individual was the award that I received from the Emmanuel Brinklow Seventh Day Adventist Church in Maryland. I was honored as a living legend. Here is a community of mostly black people who for the first time are giving this award to someone who is not from the United States.

We are ecstatic that one of our honorees has attained such recognition and we are humbled by the mission that has been entrusted to us, to continue the work of celebrating the ordinary people who have heeded the call on their lives to build humanity.

Listen to Leymah Gbowee’s acceptance speech by clicking here!

Doreen A. K. Hines, Executive Director

Welcome World!


Welcome to our new home!  We encourage you to visit us often, follow us on Facebook, then get involved.  We function with only one purpose that is to build humanity!

Author Barbara Hall gives the following directive:

“You’re alive. Do something. The directive in life, the moral imperative was so uncomplicated. It could be expressed in single words, not complete sentences. It sounded like this: Look. Listen. Choose. Act.”

We invite you to Choose to Act with us!            And again we say Welcome World!

A Question from the Artistic Director

I recently had the pleasure of studying with the musician that I admire the most, Bobby McFerrin. I do not consider myself a jazz musician and I have no plans to perfect the vocal virtuosic style that he is known for. He has my admiration because he speaks to me at such an organic human level. For several days I learned of his process and listened as he talked about his philosophy and life in general. At the end of my time with him I not only thought of myself as a better musician with a broader knowledge, I thought of myself as a better person because of that experience.

I often think about the experience people have with me. When they leave my presence do they feel they are a better person? I also think about my environment and I wonder if it is a better place because I’m in it. I hope people can say that I get it right more than I get it wrong.

What do people say about you when they leave your presence? Have you considered the power that you have to affect the people you come in contact with? Have you considered the power that you have to affect the world that you live in? I believe that this is the action verb of our spirituality.

We are called to be a light to the world, a vehicle for peace, justice and compassion. We live in a world that desperately needs light. The Human Symphony Foundation is a celebration of those who choose to use their life as a life changing experience for others.

I hope you too will ask yourself the question, is this world a better place because you’re in it.


The 2012 Awards; A Look Back by the Executive Director

Am I My Brothers’ Keeper?

The year 2012 began a  series that will highlight the struggles of humanity from a gender sensitive perspective.  Nowhere was the story of becoming a man in America told more poignantly than at the 2012 Ceremony of the Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity.

Our theme, “Am I my brother’s Keeper?” was answered in the life stories of our honorees, Bob Zellner, Barry Black and Dennis Banks.  One by one their stories told of the path each individual took, and at the end we found that they all were part of the same story.

Bob Zellner, a son of the south, being raised by parents who were active in the Klu Klux Klan, quickly became embroiled in the struggle for freedom in the south.  He was the first Caucasian invited to become a member of the Civil Rights Movement by Dr Martin Luther King Jr.  Although Bob grew up and left Lower Alabama, he never left the struggle.  He fights on today believing that   “Brotherhood and sisterhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend”.

His life story is being told in a Spike lee movie.  Watch for it!

Chaplain Barry Black grew up poor in Baltimore, but with the constant guidance of a Godly mother and a church family that supported God centered education, he rose to be the Chaplain of the United States Senate.  Along the way he broke down many barriers, He was the first Chief of Navy Chaplains of African Descent.  He was the first African American to be voted in a Chaplain of the US Senate.  Barry’s Story can be found in detail in the book “From the Hood to The Hill”

Dennis Banks has survived a very trying childhood, yet he grew up to lead his people.  At four years old he was taken away from his parents and sent to a boarding school created bby the U.S. Government to de-Indianize children.  Dennis was successful in running away after several failed attempts.  After a stint in the US Air force, Dennis returned to his people and became one of the founders of the American Indian Movement. His story is told in the documentary “A Good Day to Die”.

All three of our 2012 Honorees are doing their part in building humanity, staying in the struggle and saying Yes, I am my Brother’s Keeper.

2013 will completes the series with a look at the struggle to build humanity from a woman’s perspective.  We have in store for you a trio of phenomenal women

We look forward to you joining us on February 23, 2013. Visit us often on this site to receive the latest updates as we march toward the unveiling of the 2013 honorees.