Scholarship Winner Profiled in Washington Post

Clifton Williams in Boston to record a broadcast of From the Top

Clifton Williams in Boston to record a broadcast of From the Top in March

From the Top Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Clifton Williams will appear on this week’s national broadcast of From the Top on NPR and is featured in today’s Washington Post. Clifton, a 17-year-old pianist from Washington, DC is among the 100 recipients who have received a $10,000 award through a partnership between From the Top and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. In just four years, this scholarship program has invested $1 million in helping exceptional young musicians with financial need achieve their goals.

See a video of Clifton perform on From the Top.

Listen to the broadcast!

Clifton Williams performs on From the Top

Clifton Williams performs on From the Top

He didn’t start playing classical piano until three years ago, when he was 14, much later than other classical students his age, who had already been playing for years. He doesn’t have a piano at home and the one he practices on at church is slightly out of tune. Clifton Williams doesn’t come from a moneyed family that lavishes him with private lessons and trips abroad, and yet there he is at the top, competing, winning classical competitions. Quietly driven.
Clifton Williams unbuttons his suit jacket, sits at a baby grand and prepares to conquer composer Sergei Prokofiev. The night is young and old, depending on your perspective. The clock says 8:47. But it is a school night. The church sanctuary is empty. And there is Clifton, alone at the slightly out-of-tune piano. Eyes closed. Shoulders hunched. Fingers in a painful fury, chasing music.

“I’m a little nervous, because I’m playing classical,” he says. “But not really.”

His fingers glide over the keys, seeking the power they can give him: control over chaos. He corrects his posture and summons the scene he wants his audience to feel as he plays a piece by the Russian composer. A piece that, if conveyed with justifiable emotion, if played not just masterfully but also with brilliance, could be Clifton’s breakthrough. A junior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington, Clifton has just two days to practice before he travels to Boston, where he will play before a live audience on “From the Top,” NPR’s popular showcase for the country’s best young classical musicians. Washington listeners can hear it at 6 p.m. this Sunday, on classical WETA, 90.9 FM, or watch the video at Clifton recently won a $10,000 scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which partners with “From the Top” to aid exceptionally promising low-income students. The scholarships have helped them buy instruments and pay for tuition. Clifton plans to use the money for music school, travel expenses and a piano.

(An except from Deneen Brown’s piece in the Washington Post. Read more.)