It has been said that ‘the highest purpose of art is to inspire’. A recent recipient of the National Honour, the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer (OD) for his outstanding service in music, Willie Stewart was acknowledged by the Government and people of Jamaica and the minister of culture Ms. Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange.
Stewart’s musical journey started in 1997 where he studied and graduated as a music facilitator in the UK. Moving from the UK to Florida in 2000, he started working with at-risk youths where he established a percussion and music programme that empower motivate and inspires youths in the South Florida area. With the help of the Consul General Sandra Grant Griffiths, now ambassador and continued support from the current Consul General, Oliver Mair, Stewart developed a “Rhythms of Africa” programme in 2010.
Commemorating Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence, Willie Stewart was the first Jamaican to win the 2010 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Art Challenge Grant, he was also a recipient of the Luminary Award of the Consulate General of Jamaica, Miami. He expressed his gratitude by thanking attorney Marl Hill for assisting in the establishment of the non-profit, Raymond and Stephanie Azan and June Minto for guidance, Rhythms of Africa title sponsor the Jamaica Tourist Board and the community partners with special mentions to Meredith Porte, Barry Fishman and Starr Porter. He also gave special thanks to the entire musical team and staff members of the Rhythms of Africa and all its associates. A big thank you was given to Visons, Inner Circle and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires for the musical experience as a youth.
Stewart acknowledged his fellow honourees, Mayor Hazel Rogers, Manley Augustus Buchanan (Big Youth), Keith Lyn and others. He gave thanks to God for the honour of the award by the Jamaican Government, expressing his love for his country. He also shared the understanding of the rich culture in our musical heritage in this art form. Stewart is said to be a proud Jamaican both home and abroad concluding with others that “Jamaica is the heartbeat of the world”.