Making Music That Matters

Shirli L. Hughes and Ovation

Webmaster Gary Lesinski has a long resume of singing in choirs, performing in musicals, and, is a computer geek too. He has worked 10 years as Systems Administrator for the US House of Representatives, and 18 years in Research Triangle Park, NC, and Rochester, Minnesota, for IBM and Nortel Networks. Originally from the Detroit area, Gary calls Washington, DC, home. He is proud and honored to be a part of the Ovation! Team!

Business Manager Rubie Coles is honored to be a part of Ovation's support team. She has a passion for the arts and is a member of the Maryland Community Band. She also is a past president of the African Continuum Theater Company. Rubie's goal is to help make Ovation! one of the most sought after groups in the region.

Joanne Hill: "Sing a new song to the Lord! (Is. 42:10) I look forward to my time with Ovation and see this as an opportunity to share my love of singing and commitment to excellence with the group and its audience. Also, it is my prayer that my presence in the group is an inspiration to someone and will help further my personal goal of drawing souls to Christ."

Rev. Beverly Saunders Biddle's life is her ministry. "As a Minister of Spiritual Consciousness and Spiritual Life Coach, I endeavor to demonstrate God’s law, God’s love, and God’s wisdom in what I say and do. Singing God’s praises is the icing on the cake for me. It’s an important vehicle of praise and worship. And, it brings me joy and feeds my soul as I contribute to the spiritual elevation of others."

Marcia Newbill's earliest musical memory is singing with Mrs. Florence Jones in the “Toddler Choir” of her church. Thankfully Mrs. Jones believed Jesus’ direction to “suffer the little children” and made it her mission to teach even the youngest to “Praise Him, Praise Him!” Throughout her career, Marcia has been privileged to sing in numerous churches, cathedrals and theaters, and she is honored to be singing today with Shirli Hughes and Ovation! The song of her heart remains that which she learned long ago, “Praise Him, Praise Him, All You Little Children, God Is Love, God Is Love!”

Talented and versatile singer Tanya Harper gives us these original words from her heart for our contemplation: "When you look with your eyes, see with your heart- When you hear with your ears, listen with your heart -- When you talk with your mouth, speak with your heart -- When you touch with your hands, feel with your heart. Humanly do your spiritual best!"

Lisa Carrol believes "being a part of Ovation! means being a part of something special. For me, our director's teaching and drive for excellence, asking for us to bring the best that we can be, provides a challenge and an opportunity to learn and to grow musically, spiritually, and personally - besides it being a whole lot of fun to create something together in a group. Funny, but the 'harder' it is, the more fun it is. When the 'something' that is created musically is truly special, the feeling of joy can be overwhelming/amazing. It is a joy that is difficult to describe, but it connects me to a truth that words or pictures, people, pets, or the beauty of nature - as amazing and humbling as they can be/are - do not touch. What a blessing and a privilege to have the opportunity - whether at rehearsal, or reviewing tapes, or in a concert or worship service - to seek/experience this truth. Elusive, yet palpable. A peek into the Divine."

Bryan J. Bennett has enjoyed the sounds of various music for as long as he can remember. Having been brought up as a "knee baby" to a very large family(7 brothers) in the Baptist Church, his voice was often lost due to the gregarious personalities of his siblings. However it wasn't until the ripe age of 7 when Bryan sang lead with the Burning Bush Choir that he had awaken the voice that was often lost in the crowd. It was then that Sister Johnson of Southern Friendship Baptist Church proclaimed that "your voice is a gift from God." Bryan went on to sing with various church choirs in his youth. As a result of his love for the Arts, Bryan went on to pursue his education at the Duke Ellingtion School of the Performing Arts. As fate would have it Bryan went on to pursue another one of his loves which landed in the Beauty Industry. Today, Bryan serves as the proud owner of Bryan Joseph Salon located in Washington, D.C. since 1999. Bryan says that it was divine timing that his paths crossed with Michelle Lanchester , a member of Ovation that he used to sing with at a previous house of worship. Since joining Ovation Bryan has fallen in love with singing for the masses again. If you were to ask Bryan why he sings he will boldly tell you that "God did not give me this gift to sit on. My voice was GIVEN to me and it's nothing I did to earn it, therefore I will use MY VOICE to give glory and honor to my God."

Edmond Charles is a native of Haiti.  He bgan studying piano, theory and basic conducting at age 8, began playing for church at age 12.  He later studied piano in Miami, Florida with Victor de Diego, and at the University of Miami with noted piano professor Teresa Escandon.  He completed his undergraduate studies in Music at Andrews University in Michigan, under the tutelage of Dr. Morris Taylor.  He has performed in the US and abroad as soloist, accompanist, and with various groups in diverse musical styles including classical, jazz, gospel and island music genres.  He resides in Maryland and works as a music producer and arranger, church organist and pianist, and as a musician at large.

House Manager Michael Cunningham is a native Washingtonian and works at the Library of Congress. "I have a love of music but can not sing a note. I have been working back stage with the Gay Mens Chorus of Washington since 1987. I have worked back stage with the Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington and DC Different Drummers Symphonic Band. I am a active member of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington and in addition have helped with the church concerts as stage manager and house manager. I look forward to helping Ovation! as Concert House Manager. "My mission is to help in any way possible to spread the word about Shirli Hughes and Ovation! and their fabulous soulful melodic singing of inspirational, meaningful, joyful music to all and to help ensure that the audience enjoys a wonderful concert."

Darryl Eaton says that music has always played a major role in his spiritual journey. "I have lived with singing around me since I was a child growing up in North Carolina. From the front porch to the choir stand, my family sang any and everywhere. That’s how I fell in love with harmony. Even before I understood it, it inspired me. My Baptist church folk would say, 'It stirred my soul.' I began piano lessons at age 11 and playing hymns for Sunday school at age 12. It was during this same time that I rapidly began losing more and more of my vision to the point that I was nearly blind at 13. Through music, God began healing my spirit and creating a wholeness within me. The piano became one of my closest friends and I was able to complete my college degree in piano. I have sung with church and community choirs from NC to California. Today, I am joyful and very blessed to be a part of the Ovation Ensemble."

Ovation! Friends

Ovation! singer Jay Wright is a Louisiana native who resides in Springfield, VA. He grew up singing in the church that continued throughout his college years to present. Although Jay sings baritone, he is a trained percussionist performing with groups such as the DC Different Drummers, Baltimore Ravens Marching Band, MCCDC choirs, and Eclectic Praise. Jay is also alumni members of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia; professional music fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi; honorary band fraternity, and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. “I am truly honored and blessed to be a part of Ovation as I continue to learn from the director’s extensive insight and knowledge of music as well as praise and worship."

Shae Agee comes from a very musical family. "My mom was a singer when she was younger and actually sang 'back-up' for the Oak Ridge Boys when they first started. I began singing in choir in 6th grade and continued throughout college. I sang in the acclaimed Woodbridge High School Show Choir and Madrigal Singers. I also was a founding member of the Living Proof Youth choir at Lake Ridge Baptist Church, serving in leadership throughout high school. At the University of Tennessee, I was a member of the UT Concert Choir and also was a background singer for the opera, 'The Magic Flute.'

"Of late, I have had the privilege of singing under the direction of Ovation! Director, Shirli Hughes, in my church choir where I held a leadership position and also as a support singer for Shirli Hughes and Ovation! My current passion is songwriting and embracing my new role as a tenor. I believe that our gifts are our calling. And if we are called to sing; let us sing with purpose, passion, and joy!"

Ensemble singer Kimberly Wheat is blessed as a mother of two children. She is a member of 15th Street Presbyterian Church and current President of Gospel Choir. Kimberly also currently serves on Board of Trustees, Youth Group Advisor, and is a Women’s Bible Study Leader. She enjoys spending time with family and friends and watching cooking shows in her spare time.

ShepsaraAmenamm Berry "loves to sing and am honored to be included in this fantastic group. My spirit is nourished by the music we create and share."

"When there is no Enemy within, the enemy without cannot hurt you." - African Proverb

Eric Ferrell, a native of Washington DC, began singing in the Bancroft Elementary School Glee Club. Eric’s first venture in to the arts was in ballet. Only in high school did he discover that his voice was not the average. Eric was a member and soloist for the Young People’s Choral Ensemble of Canaan Baptist Church. In 1977 Eric was voted most talented male at Woodrow Wilson High School. Eric has performed as cabaret artist since the age of 18. Eric performed with several local groups before joining The Byron Brown Singers of Washington DC and later of Baltimore, Md. Eric has appeared on television, radio, and several recordings as well as many high profile events which included a concert to honor Pope John Paul, a Democratic Rally and a command request performance for Bishop Carl Bean of Los Angeles. Eric loves to make people laugh, all genres of music, Broadway plays and musicals, photography, traveling, sewing and cooking. Eric dedicates his performances to God and his family.

Ovation! Member Bios, Personal Mission Statements, and More

Thaddeus “Slideovathetop” Cradle, Sr. , multi-instrumentalist , composer and arranger was born in Newport News, VA and has lived in the District of Columbia since 1988. Now in a wide variety of styles and musical roles, he has become a vital part of the DC’s Metropolitan Scene playing trombone daily in different monumental locations such as the White House with SpreadLove Band. He has been blessed to participate with many world renowned artists such John P. Kee, Jonathan Nelson, Vickie Winans, Sissy Houston, Jeff Bradshaw and Jill Scott.

As member of The Kingdom Band, an instrumental ministry at Love Fellowship Tabernacle under the leadership of Bishop Hezekiah Walker in Brooklyn, NY, this band has performed with both Love Fellowship Community and Rhema Concerts Choirs for praise-worship services, outreach ministries and concerts such as the “He Is Risen Resurrection Sunday.”

Thaddeus is married to Edwena Cradle for 25 years with two adult children Deraji Cradle and Thaddeus Cradle, II and is currently working on his first gospel release.

Mezzo-soprano Heather L. Griffin is a native of the Virgin Islands, where she grew up singing solos and in choirs in church. Because of her sight reading skills and keyboarding proficiency, Heather spent most of her high school years as an accompanist for other singers and organist for the church. In college she took formal voice lessons and continued with piano and organ lessons. In the Republic of Panama, accompanying the high school choir, Heather taught piano and voice, and became known as a soloist.

Highlights of Heather’s musical life has been performing, with DC based La Camerata Nuove under the baton of Maestro Francisco Araujo, Handel’s Messiah in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in open air Roman Amphitheatre in the Old City of Amman, Jordan. Singing Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy for Queen Noor and King Hussein of Jordan for the King’s birthday celebration was exciting. Performing Verdi’s Requiem at the Kennedy Center under the baton of the late Maestro Norman Scribner and singing with the Heritage Signature Chorale at the groundbreaking for the Smithsonian Institution Museum of African American History, in the presence of President Barack and Mrs. Michelle Obama, with Maestro Stanley Thurston conducting are a couple of recent highlights. 

Over the years, Heather has been blessed with fantastic choirmasters, beginning with Iona Jackson, Harold Hodge, James Parson, Larry Otto, Nevilla Ottley, Jasmine Hewitt, Dr. Marianne Scriven, Jon Gilbertson and Dr. Lloyd Mallory. She is thankful each has sown seeds of musical excellence into her along with a deep appreciation for the lyrics being sung. Singing with Shirli Hughes and Ovation is providing another avenue to share the gifts with which she has been blessed, and provides an opportunity to share God’s love through song.  

Virginia Mitchell has enjoyed singing with Shirli Hughes for years.

Juanita Wright has sung in choirs for Shirli Hughes.

Ovation! Support Team

Derrick L. Plummer, Jr. has been playing the wood n' skins since the age of three. Sitting on the knees of two uncles who play drums his innate talent quickly developed. When Derrick turned 9 he began playing drums in church and since that time has played with various Gospel, Jazz, R&B, Blues and Rock artists across the country. In his youth he practiced day and night with the goal of becoming a preeminent drummer. A proud protege' of Eric Valentine one the nation's top drummers and DC native, Derrick's sound evolved and is now sought after by countless artists and musicians. Additionally, Derrick has played on numerous albums and whether playing live or in the studio his sounds is distinct, funky and unforgettable.

Keyboard and piano musician Jernell “Jay” M. Reynolds-Armstrong has been involved in music and the church since his childhood, at which time he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. Jernell started playing the piano and organ at the age of five and continued to develop his talent both naturally and through instruction. He has played at many churches in the Washington metropolitan area and has traveled throughout the United States and abroad to countries including France, Germany, and Sweden, conducting choral music workshops and accompanying singing aggregations. Jernell continues to perfect his gift while glorifying God, epitomizing the passage of Psalms 150: “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.”

Ovation! Musicians

DeWan Lee says that "I like to refer to myself as the smile and percussion of the tenor section. I'm a lover of all things beautiful in life, particularly music. I've had the pleasure and honor to sing under the direction of Shirli Hughes for many years and am looking forward to seasons of grace and love within the ministry of the Ovation Family.​"

Jessica Ahart is one of those people who listened to Shirli and her singers and was changed. "Singing with Ovation is the first time I’ve sang in public since I was a child, growing up in the church. I count this as a miracle of the healing grace of the Spirit, and of music."

Rev. Lori McPherson has been singing with choirs directed by Shirli Hughes off and on for the last 9 years. Holding a Masters of Divinity degree from Wesley Theological Seminary and currently a member of Holy Redeemer Metropolitan Community Church in College Park, Maryland, Lori is profoundly grateful for the opportunity to be a 'Friend' of Ovation! "The depth of faith, love, joy, and dedication of my sisters and brothers in this group are a continual blessing and testimony to God's goodness, and presence, in my life."

Like an old soft drink commercial, Paula Pree would “like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Drafted at age 4 to be the second soprano in our family’s 4-part rendition of “Fairest Lord Jesus,” Paula was "awakened to the blessing and joy of being able to lift my voice in song. From that young beginning, I knew I had to sing. Approaching the music, rehearsing it and finally nailing down my part of the chord, the song messages settle in my heart and mind. And, when it all comes together, when the voices are blended in perfect harmony, the song is in me, and I am that song – a song of praise, joy, compassion, love, excitement that I must share."

​​Michelle Lanchester is a singer, songwriter, lawyer, and lover of peace. She writes: "Singing and music are more than notes and rhythm to me; they move through me like blood. I do not remember when I did not love singing and music. By the grace of God, singing and music flowed from me through 'Patchwork Quilt' and 'Battered Earth,' two of my songs featured on albums by internationally acclaimed women’s a cappella group, Sweet Honey In the Rock. Through divine order, Dr. Maya Angelou and Virgin Records, 'Patchwork Quilt' was chosen for the soundtrack of the movie, 'Down In the Delta' in the company of such music greats as Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan. Fortunately, I was blessed to perform nationally and internationally with 'life-changing' groups and magnificent artists including Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Sweet Honey In the Rock, Odetta, In Process…, Nona Hendrix, Toshi Reagon, Pete Seeger, Richard Smallwood and Vision. I believe that artists, musicians and singers should strive to be soul stirring, motivating and rejuvenating vessels that ignite change. Shirli L. Hughes and Ovation! is a moving experience that touches and transcends audiences from all backgrounds. I am grateful and honored to be on the journey of transforming lives with them."

Dr. Satira S. Streeter is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and Executive Director of Ascensions Psychological and Community Services, Inc. She founded Ascensions to serve the needs of families in the most poverty stricken area of Washington, DC.  As the only mental wellness facility in this area, the organization is filling an enormous health care crisis and is recognized by the Federal Government as a National Health Service Corps Site.  Ascensions provides therapy, advocacy, evaluations, and psycho-educational groups including couples, parenting, leadership for girls, college readiness, women’s support, and survivors of homicide.

Dr. Streeter has dedicated her life to using her personal and professional experiences to provide culturally relevant and innovative mental health care and empowerment to the people of her community. For this work she has been honored as United Negro College Fund’s “Outstanding Young Alumnus,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation “Community Health Leader,” and as  one of NBC’s “The Grio’s 100: History Makers in the Making.”  Her work has been featured on NBC’s Nightly News’ “Making a Difference” segment,”WJLA ABC 7’s “Working Women,” The Washington Times, and Voices of America.

Dr. Streeter is a lifetime member of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc., Wilberforce University Alumnae Association, and the Association of Black Psychologists.

Àjíké Kendrick is a life coach specializing in leadership development through spirituality.  She founded Spiritry in 1998 which provides individuals and organizations with cutting edge, spiritually-based personal development services: life coaching, spiritual readings, seminars, weekend retreats, and meditation circles.

Natalie V. Carter is a native Washingtonian whose gift for vocal music led her to North Carolina’s Greensboro College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Performance. She further honed her skills in continued music studies at the esteemed Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. An extremely versatile solo and choral performer, Ms. Carter has sung with the Heritage Signature Chorale directed by Stanley J. Thurston, and the Cathedral Choral Society ofthe Washington National Cathedral led by J. Reilly Lewis. In past seasons, Ms. Carter performed a commissioned concert of spirituals at the U.S. Embassy in Barbados forthe inauguration of President Obama, led a professional workshop at the U.S. Embassyin Grenada, and was featured in performances at the White House, the Department ofState, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC’s legendary Lincoln Theater, and the dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Recent engagements have included a sold out jazz supper club performance at the Arts Club of Washington.

Special Ovation! Meditation Moment Contributors

Willie T. Montgomery, Jr. is "so happy to finally be joining the Ovation bunch. After a two year courtship as a Friend of Ovation, I decided it was time to jump the broom and make the commitment to a group that has been such a blessing to my life. I am beyond excited to have this opportunity to explore, grow, and use my God given talents and gifts towards the advancement of Ovation’s mission and ministry. It is my hope and prayer that I can be a blessing to all those in need of encouragement, as Ovation continues to bless to me."

Francine Clark is a dedicated music minister and a fierce prayer warrior for Christ. "I have been blessed to sing God's praises for more than 30 years with a number of Washington DC area choruses, ensembles, church choirs and mass choirs. I consider it to be one of my highest honors to sing with Ovation."

Meet Venson Phillip Mathews. Since he's been on the planet for 58 years, there's plenty that could be said about Venson Phillip Mathews, yet his desire is that anyone reading this gets the "essential Venson Mathews" as they read this bio. "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) are words from scripture that have served as the vision/mission statement for Mathews for a number of years now. After a very challenging and wounding childhood (something many of us have experienced) his life long journey has been one of seeking and sharing healing, wholeness, the true oneness of Life that is our spiritual birthright. He has come to believe that it is primarily through coming to this place of "stillness" that one can experience and express the deepest levels of healing, wholeness, and oneness with God/Love, one’s true Self and All That Is.

Ovation! Biographies