GR Symphony's 'Celebration of Soul' gala honors three for a lifetime of service to diversity, equity and inclusion

Dr. MaLinda P. Sapp, a pastor and counselor, a psychologist and college professor, a wife and mother, was an inspiration to all of those whose lives she touched in a life that was all too-short.

In 2006, the Grand Rapids Symphony launched its annual Celebration of Soul Gala to honor members of the community who have worked tirelessly to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in West Michigan.

The 14th annual Celebration of Soul Gala, held Saturday, Feb. 16, honored three more individuals with the Dr. MaLinda P. Sapp Legacy Award.

Architect and jazz musician Isaac V. Norris, conductor and educator John Varineau, and teacher, photographer and jazz musician Noel Webley Jr. were honored in the gala held at the JW Marriott’s International Ballroom.

GRS Celebration of Soul gala 2019

The concert preceded the 18th annual Symphony with Soul concert, with special guests, Black Violin, held in DeVos Performance Hall.

The threads that weave the three honorees together into the fabric of the Grand Rapids Symphony family are access and inclusion, said Grand Rapids Symphony President Mary Tuuk.

“Each in his own way has created and fostered an open-door policy connecting people through music,” she said. “Their legacy, along with the work of our past honorees, and our honorees yet to come, guides and inspires us as we expand access to orchestral music and increase music’s capacity to foster inclusion.”

Isaac V. Norris, for more than 25 years, has successfully owned and operated his own architectural firm, Isaac V. Norris and Associates, located in the urban core of Grand Rapids.

In his career, he has designed many facilities in the city such as The Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center, The Rapid-BRT Transit Stations, the Gerald R. Ford Academic Center, and many local LEED-certified affordable housing developments.

A lifelong resident of Grand Rapids, Norris, while still attending Creston High School, interned for Judson Jones, who was the only African-American architect working in Grand Rapids. Following his mentor’s example, Norris has taken many other young architects under his wing.

“It’s hard to be what you cannot see,” Norris said more than once while accepting his award.

John Varineau, associate conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony and director of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, has been a part of the orchestra for 34 years.

He also has taught in most area colleges and continues to teach at Calvin College where he conducts the Calvin College Orchestra as well as the Calvin Community Symphony.

With former music director David Lockington, the late Cedric Ward, and others, Varineau was a co-founder of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s annual Symphony with Soul concert, an effort to begin bringing music to everyone in the community.

“David Lockington pushed us to understand what that word means – everyone,” Varineau said. “In these bitterly divisive times, let us celebrate the fact that art and music have the power to unite.”

Noel Webley Jr, a native of Grand Rapids, taught art in the Grand Rapids Public Schools for 33 years before retiring. In 1972, he began playing jazz bass in his father’s nightclub, and he continues to be an active musician in the area.

In 1984, his hobby of photography became another professional pursuit when he joined the staff of The Grand Rapids Press as a regular freelance photographer, shooting many Grand Rapids Symphony concerts and events over the years.

One of the many students he taught at Ottawa Hills High School over the years was MaLinda Sapp.

“Even at that age, she was one of the kindest and classiest young ladies,” Webley recalled.

The three join a long list of artists, musicians, educators, journalists, ministers, philanthropists, and social justice crusaders who have received the Dr. MaLinda P. Sapp Legacy Award, among them Herschell Turner, Edye Evans Hyde, Bishop William Abney and Patricia Pulliam.

Such institutions as the Grand Rapids Urban League, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Baxter Community Center, Cherry Health, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and companies including Celebration! Cinema and Huntington Bank also have received the award.

In 2010, shortly before her death, MaLinda Sapp and her husband, Bishop Marvin L. Sapp, co-founders of Lighthouse Full Life Center Churches in Grand Rapids and Muskegon, were honored with the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Legacy Award.

In her memory, the Grand Rapids Symphony named its Legacy Award after her.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 9:00 AM
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