Mardi Gras party raises money to send RSCC choir to Carnegie Hall

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By Cheryl Duncan, Assistant Editor

Beads, masks and jazz music punctuated last week’s Mardi Gras festivities on that most famous of thoroughfares.


Rockwood Street.

Yes, you read it right.

The flashy celebration marking the last day of indulgence before the Lenten season was a chance to bring a little New Orleans fun to the Rockwood Event Center while raising money for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a group of Roane State Community College singers.

“We have a very special reason to go” to New York, said Brenda Luggie, director of the Roane State Concert Choir.

“We will be directed in Carnegie Hall by a Roane State alumnus, Brian Bacon.”

Fourteen choir members will perform this May in the prestigious Manhattan concert hall that was once home to the New York Philharmonic.

“New York is one of my favorite places ever,” said choir member Mason Van Horn of Kingston. “Singing on the Carnegie Hall stage is going to be one of my bucket items checked off.”

Van Horn and his fellow choir members have each paid about $750 so far for the trip. Luggie estimates that’s about half of what it will cost each student for the May 22-28 Big Apple adventure.

“It’s really because Brian is conducting that we got invited,” Luggie said of the former Roane State student who lives in Fairfield Glade and serves as director of music at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

The Roane State Concert Choir will be among those Bacon will direct in conducting debut in the world-famous theater.

Fundraisers like the Mardi Gras celebration will help the Roane State students achieve their dream.

Judging by attendance, it was well received. Seats were scarce, as frolickers paid $15 each — or $25 per couple — for New Orleans fare such as gumbo and garlic bread.

Of course, there was a king cake, adorned with a feathery mask and colorful beads.

The gigantic confection was cordoned off, one side for males, the other for females. Each side held a traditional baby trinket, with those given lucky piece crowned king and queen of the celebration.

Those honors went to Bruce Pharis and Makayla Bennett. The two were hustled around the newly expanded REC Big Easy-style.

Trumpeter Roland Ledesma led a parade of masked revelers who tossed and were pelted with the colorful beads and coins that are as famous as the celebration itself.

Pharis and Bennett won’t be the last to wear the crowns if Luggie has her way.

“Hopefully, we’ll make it an annual event,” she said.