Michelle Obama honors Sphinx for after-school programs


Detroit’s Sphinx Organization, which works to get children from underserved communities into classical music, will be honored Tuesday at the White House by first lady Michelle Obama for its outreach program to the Flint and Detroit public schools.

“It’s going to be a splash of sorts,” said a clearly delighted Afa S. Dworkin, Sphinx president and artistic director. Sphinx Overture, the beginning-violin program being honored, offers free instruments and lessons to all of Flint’s public elementary schools and several in Detroit.

Sphinx is one of 12 winners, chosen from 251 nominees, for the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

The annual award recognizes the best in after-school, creative youth-development programs that harness the power of the arts to boost academic achievement.

“You get a $10,000 grant, which is cool,” Dworkin said, “but you also get to travel to the White House.”

Even better, she added, “We were selected to perform.”

Playing for the first lady will be the Sphinx Perfect Fourth String Quartet, comprised of Aidan Daniels, Maxwell Fairman, Peirce Ellis and Nicholas Reeves.

Also traveling with the Quartet and Dworkin will be 12-year-old Joselyn Hernandez, who trained with Sphinx Overture for five years at Maybury Elementary School in southwest Detroit.

This isn’t Sphinx’s first visit to the White House, though it is the first time one of its programs has been recognized at such a high level.

“We’ve previously been invited to take part in Classical Music Days in the White House,” Dworkin said, “but this is the first formal nod toward our programming. And it’s a pretty high-end distinction — it’s so difficult to even get to be a finalist.”

Indeed, she noted Sphinx has been a finalist at least four times in the past.

Sphinx, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, was founded by Dworkin’s husband Aaron, who’s now dean of the the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Concerned by the lack of people of color in the classical-music world, Dworkin launched Sphinx as an undergraduate music student at the University of Michigan.

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