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PCA producing tribute to its 'musical muse'

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>
JoAn Ramsay poses with the baby grand piano at her Prescott residence Wednesday morning.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br> JoAn Ramsay poses with the baby grand piano at her Prescott residence Wednesday morning.

Many would say that JoAn Ramsay is Prescott's first lady of music.

So many, in fact, that those who know how much she has contributed to the performing arts are paying tribute to her in a concert, "Celebrating the Legendary JoAn Ramsay - Our Musical Muse," at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Prescott Center for the Arts. Tickets are $20 and all proceeds will benefit the Prescott Center for the Arts Scholarship Fund.

And, it is this scholarship fund that Ramsay created that people especially praise, along with her giving voice lessons to many children and adults, some of whom didn't think they could carry a note.

Ramsay, a mezzo soprano or alto, has lived in Prescott for 40 years. She was born in Iowa and was formally educated in music at the Cornell College Music Department in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, and then went on to the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where she majored in voice and earned a bachelor's degree in music. She completed her master's degree at Michigan State University.

A large slice of the world enjoyed Ramsay's talents before she moved to Prescott. In 1957, she and her children, Jim and Janet, joined her husband Bill, an agriculturalist, in Shiraz, Iran, where he took a position with the new U.S. International Cooperation Association. While there, Ramsay taught her own children, sang in the local church for events and gave a concert. Thus began her personal quest to bring music to the world. She continued her mission and was invited to sing concerts in Iran's major cities. As her husband's work took her family to such faraway places as Africa, and Afghanistan, Ramsay left her mark along the way, teaching, directing musical performances, and singing.

The Ramsays returned to the U.S. in 1969, and she continued her education, taught voice and German diction at the University of Maryland and voice, sight-singing, ear training and music history at Alexandria Community College. They left the country again, this time for Tanzania, where Ramsay again became involved in musical endeavors.

Ramsay and her family came to Prescott in 1977, and immediately she established her reputation as a musician extraordinaire.

The concert honoring her will shine a spotlight on Ramsay's significant achievements iin Prescott.

The first will honor her for establishing Prescott Center for the Arts' (then Prescott Fine Arts Association) scholarship program for young people. Youths compete in fine art, drama, voice and instrument for scholarships, and since its inception 30 years ago, the program has awarded $300,000 in scholarship money.

The first two scholarship winners will be on hand for the concert: Christina Cuda Robertson, who lives in Prescott, and Kay Berg Williams, a Colorado resident.

Now a concert pianist who performs around the Southwest, Robertson said of Ramsay, "I am really appreciative that JoAn started the scholarship program and gave us a chance to not only play our music but work our way through college." Robertson first earned an associate's degree in piano from Yavapai College and then continued to earn her bachelor's in piano performance from Northern Arizona University and a master's in piano performance at Arizona State University. "I am very grateful to her and to know the program continues even today. It's a wonderful deal." Robertson will play a Gershwin piece that she performed in the very first scholarship competition.

Ramsay also started the concert committee at PCA, which allows talented local musicians to perform, she was the lightning rod behind formation of the PCA Singers, she has composed and arranged a myriad of music and she has been musical director for more than 100 musicals. "Everything she has done has been volunteer hours," Linda Sheehan, who is directing the tribute, said.

The second half of the tribute will feature shortened versions of songs in musicals that Ramsay has directed over the years.

More than 80 people have asked to take part in the concert to honor Ramsay, Sheehan said.

Don Langford, who is an assistant director for the show, along with Linda Miller, Judy Clothier and Kate Howell, has worked with Ramsay in PCA productions since 1979.

"I can't think of a woman who has done more to contribute to a passion around singing and voice," he said. "She has given voice to thousands of people who have grown up here in Prescott and who have come to share their talents, not only with this community but nationally. Her greatest single contribution was funding scholarships for people to pursue their artistic careers. She is a lovely woman, and a I am blessed to have her in my life."

Casey Knight, another familiar face at PCA, said, "JoAn is absolutely the foundation stone for the musicals of PCA. Her generosity in providing voice lessons for people of all ages has allowed them to fulfill their passion. I can't say enough about her. She took me from thinking that I couldn't sing to playing major musical leads on the PCA stage."

Ramsay, who will be 90 years old in December, "likes any kind of music, as long as it is good music - anything to do with singing," she said. "I love teaching. It's such a thrill when somebody enjoys something as much as I do, and it's a joy to watch them grow."

Tickets to the tribute are available on line at or by calling 445-3286. A reception with refreshments will follow the concert.

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