The Conversation: Kathy Wallis

Kathy Wallis, Executive Director, Beaches Fine Arts Series

Conversation with Meredith Matthews • Photograph by laird

You were a choral singer at St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Church (SPBTS) under the direction of Beaches Fine Arts Series’ (BFAS) founder, Jim Johnson. Do you recall your initial reaction to his asking you to be his successor? 

My initial reaction to Jim’s pressure of me to be his successor was something along the lines of “Are you nuts?” but he was very insistent. Honestly, I think he might have known more about me than I did, because BFAS, its development and care, became such an important part of my life, more than a job—really a passion. I think that most people who are BFAS supporters feel protective and proud of what this organization has produced over the past 50 years and look forward to its future. 

Our families have been friends for nearly my entire life, and I spent a lot of time at your home as a kid. I remember you singing in the Messiah with the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus and thinking you must be famous. Can you tell us more about your vocal background? 

I have been involved with music since childhood. My father had a second job as a choir director and was himself a wonderful baritone who sang solos at the dedication of Duke Chapel in the 1930s. In addition to choral singing, I performed in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and was the cantor at St. Paul’s by-the-Sea for a number of years. In 1996, I joined the St. John’s Cathedral Choir, a fabulous group which has been choir in residence at several major English cathedrals.

How would you summarize the positive impact an organization like BFAS has on its community? 

Many people say that BFAS is the best kept secret in Jacksonville.  In the early days, I think that our constituents could not believe that BFAS brought world-class performers to our community, free of charge, relying on the common adage that if something is free, it must not have value. Slowly, as we have grown, our audiences have come to trust that the concerts they attend will always be of the highest quality. BFAS believes that great music enhances all of our lives, regardless of our ability to purchase tickets, and many members of our audiences are generous with their support so that others may enjoy concerts. Today, our concerts maintain full houses, and our award-winning educational programs (Distinguished Service Award, Florida Music Educators Association) reach thousands of students each season. Audiences from the elderly to students, to young families with children enjoy the wide-ranging and diverse offerings of BFAS.

Can you name a favorite artist that has performed as part of BFAS? 

So many favorite artists—it would be hard to name just one! It is a great privilege for me to meet and chat with these great performers every season. Our 50th season was chosen from favorites of mine and of the series over its history and ranges from Pablo Ziegler, the protégé of the father of Argentine Tango (Astor Piazzolla); to the jazz trio, the Marcus Roberts Trio; to the Grammy-winning male vocal ensemble, Chanticleer; and culminating with our own wonderful Jacksonville Symphony. 

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Author: Arbus

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