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Breanna Lester, 14, left, and Kate Sutherland, 15, will be part of a group that will travel to Washington to perform in the White House Music Series. (Earl Neikirk|Bristol Herald Courier)

Breanna Lester, 14, left, and Kate Sutherland, 15, will be part of a group that will travel to Washington to perform in the White House Music Series. (Earl Neikirk|Bristol Herald Courier)

Area Youth Headed To White House For Music Program

July 16, 2009

*** Published: July 16, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Va. – Katie Sutherland thought her mother was kidding when she asked about performing at the White House.

It was no joke.

Katie, a 15-year-old sophomore at Clintwood High School, is one of 10 young musicians from this area scheduled to attend a White House music series event Tuesday. Officials with the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance and the Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival announced the program at a news conference (on Wednesday, July 15, 2009).

"Mom answered the phone and asked me if I'd like to play for the president. I thought she was kidding, but she wasn't. I'm really excited," Katie said.

The program is part of an ongoing tribute to various forms of music, said Crystal Pace, acting managing director of the BCMA.

"These young people will be attending a country music songwriting and singing workshop at the White House. This is part of an effort by First Lady Michelle Obama to support the arts and arts education," Pace said.

In June, about 150 young musicians from across the country traveled to the White House for classes and performances of jazz, during the first event in the series. The program invites middle and high school-age students from across the United States to participate in a one-day program.

About 120 are expected to attend Tuesday's event, which includes workshops and performances by Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss & Union Station, according to a White House news statement. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the evening event.

During their visit, local musicians and their families will tour the White House, meet with Tennessee U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, and Virginia U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon, and participate in music education activities.

Katie, who also plays the guitar, began singing in church at the age of 7 and currently performs with duo partner Breanna Lester in their Tymes 2 Band.

While Katie and her family plan to leave Sunday, Breanna and her parents left Wednesday to spend a week in the nation's capital.

"It's a great opportunity. It's a much bigger step than what I thought I would be able to do," Breanna said, adding she's looking forward to her first visit to Washington, D.C.

The youngsters, who range in age from 11 to 17, were chosen because of their interest and involvement in music, said Leah Ross, the music festival's executive director.

"We're really excited to be involved and have our area represented," Ross said. "There were a lot of worthy kids, but we tried to contact kids who had performed in our festival or were involved in music programs like the Mountain Heritage music program in Dickenson County and the Mountain Music School at Mountain Empire Community College."

The choices were made quickly, said Kevin Triplett, chairman of the BCMA's fundraising campaign.
"We had a day and a half to make this happen. But when the White House calls and says you have 36 hours, you say OK," Triplett said. "But this is exactly what we're trying to do with our mission at BCMA – to promote our heritage and its future. And that future is children like this, who are extra talented."
Allie Schrenker of Bristol, Tenn., said she was "ecstatic," to learn she had the opportunity to attend.
"I was so excited. I think this is the chance of a lifetime and I've never been to Washington, D.C.," Allie said. The 11-year-old said she likes country and pop music, but mostly enjoys playing "Rocky Top" on her fiddle.

Isiah Porter, 14, of Bristol, Va., said he didn't quite believe his mother when told about the trip. His musical interests include singing and playing the piano, and he prefers gospel music.

"This is a once in a lifetime moment," he said. "When she [mother] said I was going, I was so happy."
Whitney Sproles, 17, of Bristol, Va., said this also will mark her first trip to Washington.

"I love singing. That's my interest," Whitney said, adding that her dream is to one day sing professionally.

Others scheduled to attend include Allen Clark of Bristol, Tenn.; Taylor Cochran of Jonesborough, Tenn.; Avery Deakins of Johnson City; Adam Larkey of Erwin, Tenn., and Claire Morrison of Bristol, Va.