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January 27, 2002|Patt Diroll; Ann Conway

Gospel Brunch

The Ebell Club of Los Angeles was packed to capacity with the overflow seated in the garden for the fourth annual Gospel Brunch to benefit the "I Have a Dream" Foundation of Los Angeles and Pasadena. More than 600 guests turned out for last Sunday's event, which honored David E. Kelley's and Fox Television's "Boston Public" for its realistic portrayal of an inner-city high school, and attorney Barry Edwards, former chairman of the foundation board, whose efforts have raised more than $1 million and who also helped develop a relationship between IHAD and Sylvan Learning Centers.

This year's event raised $800,000, thanks in part to response to a challenge grant from the Whittier Family Foundation. The funds are earmarked for the adoption of another first-grade class of "Dreamers" in East L.A.

The "I Have a Dream" Foundation was created in 1981, when New York businessman Eugene Lang offered college tuition to a class of sixth-graders in East Harlem. Ninety percent completed high school; 60% went to college.

Since 1987, IHAD of L.A. has served more than 700 low-income students in South-Central and Pasadena. "Our commitment is to help only the neediest among us," said Harold C. Haizlip, executive director of the foundation. "We find a school where 99% of the families are at the lowest income level. Most people look at the pathology of second-class citizens and don't have much hope for these youngsters. I say it's just the circumstances of their birth ... it shouldn't be a sentence for life."

Marlene Canter and Kelly Goode Abugov co-chaired the event, which was emceed by Lisa Gay Hamilton of ABC's "The Practice" and featured performances by gospel singer Linda Hopkins and the God's Gift of Light Choir from North Hollywood's First Baptist Church, directed by Sharlia Boyer.

Spotted in the crowd were "Boston Public" stars Kathy Baker and Loretta Devine; Michelle Ruiz; Susan Medel; Beth Colt; Carol and Chris McGuire; Linda Blinkenberg; Susan Sprung; Christopher Keyser; Anne and Christopher Higgins; Win Rhodes; Arlo Sorensen; Rick Greenthal; Portia Collins; Charles Fradin; Keith Gorham; Grant Little; Jennifer Watson; and Sally Weil.

--Patt Diroll

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Steinway Spirit

Three generations of the Steinway family were on hand for the Spirit of Life Awards Dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel to benefit Music for Kids USA. Henry Z. Steinway, president emeritus of Steinway & Sons, whose great-grandfather founded the renowned American piano company in 1853, was the honoree at the event, which was sponsored by the International Foundation for Education & Performing Arts. Ironically, neither Henry nor his son nor grandson plays the piano.

"Henry is the absolute icon of the piano-manufacturing world," said his longtime friend Roger Williams, honorary chairman of the evening, who presented the award. "1955 was a very special year for Henry and me," Williams recalled. "He became president of Steinway, and I recorded 'Autumn Leaves.' Henry was a terrible pianist then. Now, nearly 50 years later, things haven't changed. He claims he doesn't play because he has two handicaps--his right hand and his left hand!"

Williams, the 2000 awardee, is a national music mentor for the foundation project, which he named Music for Kids USA. Jazz pianist David Benoit received the Music Mentor of the Year Award for his hands-on participation in the foundation's programs, which bring noted artists into Los Angeles public schools, provide scholarships and pianos, and sponsor debut recitals for young musicians. Benoit had to be in Ohio to conduct the Toledo Symphony. His wife, Kei, accepted the award on his behalf. Event chairwoman Dana Broccoli also sent regrets from London, where she's involved with the stage production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

Among attendees at the Jan. 19 event were Benoit's protege Andrew Pae, a 13-year-old virtuoso from Anaheim Hills, who dazzled the audience with excerpts from Mozart's Sonata 18 and Chopin's "Fantaisie Impromptu"; recording artist Althea Waites, who played Brahms' Rhapsody in B Minor, Opus 79; and Williams, who topped off the program with "All the Things You Are" (a favorite of Polly Steinway, Henry's wife of 57 years), followed by his signature piece, "Autumn Leaves." All performed on the ornate Alma-Tadema Steinway, a one-of-a-kind grand piano valued at $695,000. On display was a chartreuse piano with glass keys created by artist Dale Chihuly for the opening of the Winter Olympics.

Miniature mirrored grand pianos autographed by Henry Steinway and filled with white roses centered the tables, where more than 200 dined. Lisa Barr and Jacque Heebner co-chaired the benefit, which raised $250,000.

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