Gertrude C. Ford Center celebrating 20 years

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi will celebrate 20 years of standing on the Ole Miss campus on March 25 with host Morgan Freeman.

The star-studded guest list will include eight-time Grammy Award winners Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Tony and Emmy winner Christine Baranski, Broadway and television star Bellamy Young, Emmy winner Geral McRaney, super model and brand mogul Kathy Ireland, along with Ole Miss alumni and Hollywood producers Sam and Mary Haskell who will receive the Ford Center’s most prestigious award, the Concerto Award, and many others. 

All of these guests will be attending to honor the Haskells, who have been staples of the arts and entertainment industry after their own time at The University of Mississippi. 

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Emmy-award nominated producer Sam Haskell has been beside best friend Dolly Parton for over decades, producing her movies and specials. He was nominated for an Emmy in 2021 for Dolly’s movie, “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square.” 

His wife, Mary Donnelly Haskell is an accomplished singer and actor whose starred in multitudes of television shows, and performed at various famous venues such as the White House and the Kennedy Center. 

Ford Center director, associate professor of music, and now editor of the Ford Center’s recent book Julia Aubrey is thrilled to give away the third ever Concerto Award to the Haskells. 

“I wanted something to really recognize a few individuals who have just made a tremendous impact and support the Ford Center,” she said. “It’s really reserved for just a select few. I wanted to use the occasion of the 20th anniversary celebration to Sam and Mary Haskell. They’ve been responsible for bringing in all these big guest artists.”

The Concerto Award is a replica of the 17-foot bronze statue of a violinist and cellist that’s in front of the Ford Center currently. This sculpture was created by Mississippi sculptor Rod Moorehead. The previous Concerto Award was given to Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat, whose ideas helped bring the center to fruition. The first ever Concerto Award was given to the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation. 

“We are both blessed and honored to be receiving this award,” Emmy-nominated producer Sam Haskell said. “’It comes as a result of supporting the arts and the philanthropy of raising money at the university for kids who want to study theater, music or dance and the arts. It’s a very special thing, and it’s a special thing for us to be honored by something we would do normally. We support the arts, always. And we think that the arts are one of the most important things that kids can get out of their education.”

For the first half of the program, appearances and performances will be made by Baranski, Young, Ireland, Emmy-award winning actor and Ole Miss alumnus Gerald McRaney, percussionist Pedro Segundo, and a few others. 

The second half will include McCoo and Davis who will take the stage with their newest album, “Blackbird, Lennon-McCartney Icons,” as well as their greatest hits from The Fifth Dimension.

The Mississippians Jazz Ensemble and the Ole Miss student group will also be present at the ceremony.  

Since its opening in March of 2003, the Ford Center’s impact on students and the community is huge, as over 100 events are done annually. The building itself is worthy of praise, as Aubrey describes it as similar in structure and beauty to the famous Kennedy Center. The six-story building has two performance venues, beautiful acoustics, and seating for over 1,000 audience guests. 

The center is a staple for anyone in the state of Mississippi to feel inspired by the arts and the impact is made across the country and world as a whole. The center has hosted U.S Supreme Court justices, Broadway touring shows, country-music icons such as Dolly Parton and even the late Prince Edward. 

“We want to create the most welcoming environment possible, and everyone is invited here,” Aubrey said. “We hope that in what we do, the Ford Center appeals to somebody somehow, and all ages, and not just in Oxford. We want to bring in a diverse audience and diverse kinds of performances that will appeal to a wide variety of people. That’s really why we’re here, is to help the arts impact life and to help in terms of making you a better human being.”

The event is currently sold out and the Ford Center’s new book will be sold at the event.