Cellist Yo-Yo Ma receives Fred Rogers award; event raises $1M for center

| Saturday, May 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and 15 Grammy Awards, accepted the Fred Rogers Legacy Award on Friday at St. Vincent College in Unity with high praise.

“This is perhaps the greatest honor I've ever received,” he told the 750 attendees gathered in the basilica, as he was bestowed with the inaugural award developed by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media.

The award is partially meant to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the center that continues the legacy of the Latrobe native and children's television host through work in early learning and children's media.

Joanne Rogers, wife of the late Fred Rogers, acted as honorary chairwoman for the center's advisory council in giving the award to Ma.

During her remarks at the ceremony, which raised $1 million in scholarships and fellowships for the center, Joanne Rogers welcomed Ma and his wife, Jill, before the cellist performed a short recital.

“He will be giving us what Fred would say is the most important thing: his honest self,” she said.

Ma was chosen for the award because he represents Fred Rogers' commitment to service, said Rick Fernandes, executive director of the center.

“He expertly uses the power of popular culture and media to engage students of all ages to learn through music,” Fernandes said.

Ma sprinted to the stage to receive the etched glass award, then gave a hug and kiss to Joanne Rogers.

He praised the St. Vincent College community for embracing Fred Rogers' passion, which reflects the spirit of the college and the Benedictine order upon which it was founded.

“This family of people, combined with values and goodness, is kind of overwhelming. I'm just hoping that being in proximity with you all, that some of it will rub off tonight, because I really need it,” he joked.

He said oftentimes he watches the recording online of Fred Rogers' 1969 testimony to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications, which at the time was considering funding cuts for public broadcasting.

“What a great message this is, not just for children, but for all of us, for me,” he said of Rogers' seven-minute speech. “I go to Fred Rogers still for inspiration, consolation and advice, very good advice.”

Ma performed three short pieces, which he said he chose because of the Benedictine order and the landscape of the Laurel Highlands where the college is located, including an Appalachian waltz and a Mongolian folk tune.

He then gave a masterful rendition of Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G.

Afterward, about 60 Benedictine monks from St. Vincent Archabbey joined him and performed the “Benedictine Ultima,” which Archabbot Douglas Nowicki said was one of Fred Rogers' favorite hymns.

When introducing Bach's work, Ma said the composer reminded him of the late educator, minister and children's television host.

“There's this empathy that goes inside each child or each human being, but also held at arms' length,” he said, adding that the third movement, a jig, also represented the joy he felt in accepting the award.

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