Womack to be honored at Los Angeles gala benefit

Published 6:28 pm Friday, November 17, 2017

A Greenville native is about to be recognized in a big way for his contributions to music education.

Vincent Womack, veteran music teacher, associate college professor and assistant band director for the famed USC Trojan Band, along with Grammy Award winning violinist Joshua Bell, will be honored at a star-studded fundraiser for Education Through Music (ETM-LA). The event is slated for November 28 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, with actor Malcolm McDowell hosting. Among the honorary celebrity event chairs are Tony Bennett, Susan Benedetto, Jane Lynch, Bob Saget and Tavis Smiley.

For Womack, this special recognition was truly a surprise.

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“When I was contacted by ETM-LA about honoring me along with violinist Joshua Bell, I was stunned,” he says.

“I don’t feel like I’m old enough to receive such an honor. It seems only a few years ago I began this journey in teaching. I’m humbled, appreciative and grateful to look back at the 30 years in education and all the good we’ve been able to give.”

And it all started in Greenville.

For Womack, growing up in the Camellia City in the ‘70s and ‘80s “was a grand time.”

This proud member of the Greenville High class of 1982 recalls a time when “gas was cheap and we burned a lot of it cruising McDonald’s parking lot and Dunbar Rec Center for hours.”

Most of all, he recalls the fun of Friday night lights and being part of the Tiger Pride band; of coach Bill Whalen, running back Tommy Powell, quarterback Harry Crum and a special group of competitive players who went to the playoffs and nearly won it all.

And how the band played on . . .

“I started with the band under the direction of Charles Coon—the only band director I ever had in Greenville–back in the fifth grade. I started with the French horn, and then I picked up the trumpet in the sixth grade—and I never put it down,” Vincent says.  He also learned to play the piano, sang in the school chorus under the direction of Millie McDonald and “gave all I could” to Roberta “Miss Bobbie” Gamble and her drama program at the high school.

“She was and still is my favorite teacher. Miss Bobbie elevated us and helped us imagine and dream of perfection.”

As for his love of music, well, it just comes naturally. His mother and siblings were his earliest and strongest musical influences.

“My mom, Ruby Mae Price Womack is 93, and she still plays the piano, organ, and sings beautifully. She passed the passion for music to my older brothers, Anthony and Chris, and they nurtured it in me,” Womack explains.

Later came Stevie Wonder and his album “Songs in the Key of Life.”

“I studied and sang every song on that album. Then came James Taylor, Earth Wind and Fire, the Commodores and Prince, to name a few. Today, I really like Bruno Mars and jazz musician Kamasi Washington.”

Womack’s mother Ruby was also a teacher for many years in Greenville and Butler County, serving as an inspiration for him both as a musician and an educator, he says.

“I’ve been teaching 30 years in Los Angeles, including 23 years at the Foshay Learning Center. In that time, I’ve taught grades 6-12, undergraduate, and graduate level students. They all are challenging and satisfying in different ways–but helping students find perspective and motivation to learn, achieve and make a difference in the world, that exists on all levels.”

Just as his hometown teachers continue to positively impact him, Womack hopes he has played such a role in the lives of his students over the years, no matter what their chosen career path may be.

“I hear from former students nearly every day. The careers they have chosen are across the spectrum from law enforcement to medicine, from education to engineering,” he says.

“I am particularly proud of my students who are courageous enough to commit to and follow their dreams and truly live the life they’ve imagined.”

For Womack, it’s been an amazing journey filled with memorable musical events and some famous faces along the way.

“I’ve had the privilege of connecting with some special people over the years. I was featured in a television show with Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah. I have become good friends with legendary musician Eddie Van Halen and his wife Janie. I’m fortunate to know legendary singer/musician Tony Bennett and be part of his foundation Exploring the Arts,” Womack says.

“I’ve met all kinds of wonderful people who are committed to making a difference in the world by helping kids believe in themselves, while challenging them to learn to work productively with others. Music and the arts are such an amazing vehicle and confluence for all of that. I’m forever grateful to my mom, my brothers, and all the inspirational teachers and mentors I’ve had over the years who have positively influenced my journey.”

From the Walt Disney Concert Hall to the Dolby Theater, from the Hollywood Bowl to the Cathedral of Our Lady, Greenville’s own Vincent Womack has conducted ensembles in Los Angeles’ most impressive venues. ETM-LA lauds the musician and educator for his years providing “high-quality, creative” music education to students in inner-city public schools. Womack was also recently profiled as part of a PBS mini-documentary, “The Jazz Ticket,” following the journey of a promising music student preparing to audition for a university music program.  And under his direction, the Foshay Jazz Ensemble traveled all the way to Paris, France to perform.

Vincent Womack knows that music education means life education.

“For young students, learning music, the skills of effective practice and learning to identify and fix problems over time, is magical, as it can turn bad into good and make…something beautiful–a process transferable to other areas of life,” Womack says.

The young man fostering big dreams in a small south Alabama town has come a long way. But he hasn’t forgotten that it all started in Greenville.