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Largest field in recent memory to partake in Friday’s Bland Contest

Harp, cellos, piano, violins, violas, vocalists, Oh my!

Twenty-six young musicians will grace the stage of the Chastain Theater at The Prizery at 7 p.m. Friday.  This is the largest card for a Bland Contest in memory, according to South Boston Lion Paul Steube. 

The sponsoring South Boston Lions Club feels they have the best Bland Contest in the state, Steube said.  

Beginning last year, students play, or are accompanied by, The Prizery’s new 9-foot Steinway concert grand piano.

One vocal and one instrumental winner, rendering classical compositions, will each win $300 cash.  This is probably the largest club award in the state.  They will then be eligible to compete on the district level for $100 U.S. Savings Bonds for winners and $50 U.S. Savings Bonds for runners-up.  

District winners will compete at the Lions Club State Convention in Bristol in May.  State winners win a $2,500 scholarship.    First and second runners-up receive $2,000 and $1,500 scholarships, respectively.  Fourth, fifth and sixth place receive $1,000 cash.

Lions Clubs in Virginia began James A. Bland Memorial Music Scholarship Contests in 1948.  James Alan Bland was an African-American musician and composer.  He was the most successful entertainer of his time in North America, extremely wealthy.

Bland’s career eventually nose-dived.  When he died of tuberculosis in 1911, his passing went unnoticed.  Lions helped bring him back from obscurity.  

In 1939, Lions of Virginia and Dr. J. Francis, the long-time editor of the music magazine, Etude, discovered Bland’s unmarked grave, covered in weeds, in Merion Cemetery near Philadelphia.  The Lions placed a wooden marker on his grave.  

A more elaborate granite marker was dedicated in July 1946 in conjunction with the Lions’ international convention in Philadelphia.  Among the special guests was Bland’s aged sister.

This is the eighth annual Bland Contest held locally in recent years.  Before their passing, Lion Jordan Sizemore chaired the Bland Committee for a number of years and his wife, Jeanne, provided many students as contestants.  Their daughter, Sally Sizemore Muller, of Greensboro, N.C. will be a judge at this year’s contest.

There are 265 seats in the Chastain Theater.  Lions would like for the public to come out and fill those seats to support these young people and enjoy an evening of musical excellence, Steube said.  

Admission is one pair of used glasses.