Whatever Happened To ... the D.C. piano prodigy

Clifton Williams won third place in the DC-CAPital Stars Talent Competition in March.
Clifton Williams won third place in the DC-CAPital Stars Talent Competition in March. (Susan Biddle - For The Washington Post)
By DeNeen Brown
Sunday, June 13, 2010

It has been a year since the story of Clifton Williams, the teenage classical piano player from Southeast Washington, appeared in The Washington Post. The story captured his quiet resolve to compete at a national level.

Clifton's life had ascended steadily, like a rising movement in a sonata. He hadn't begun playing classical music until 14, much later than other classical students. Still, he was determined to rise to the top, rise above doubt.

"After the article, so many strangers reached out to me," says Clifton, now 18. "It felt really great that so many people care about young artists like me." He was offered dozens of pianos from strangers. He donated two to his school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and one to his church, Pilgrim Rest Baptist in Northeast.

As a high school junior, he had won a $10,000 scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which partners with NPR's "From the Top" to help exceptionally promising low-income students. With the scholarship, Clifton attended music camps at Princeton University, Indiana University and Berklee College of Music in Boston, which offered him a presidential scholarship. He will attend Berklee next year.

Clifton also has played at the White House and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A performance at a party hosted by Nancy Prendergast, the president of a local chamber group, led to another opportunity.

"I did a whole concert, an hour and a half of classical music," Clifton recalls. Prendergast was bragging about Clifton to neighbor Donna Eacho, the wife of U.S. Ambassador to Austria William Eacho. She helped arrange for Clifton to perform in Austria.

In March, he flew to Vienna, where he slept and dined at the ambassador's residence and went to concerts with the ambassador's family, says Erin Haran MacCurtain, spokeswoman for "From the Top," NPR's showcase for the country's best young classical musicians.

He performed classical and jazz, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin, in four concerts in Vienna and then flew to Paris, where he gave a concert for UNESCO. "It's mind-blowing," Clifton said. "This just shows me what life has in store."

Read the original story: Grand Achievement

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