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Scholarship named after IS 59 teacher

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Pamela Smith-Pearson, a Jamaica native and southeast Queens instructor, spent her entire life spreading the appreciation she had for music.

When she died of breast cancer in January, her husband, Norman Pearson, said he wanted to keep her passion alive and extend it to future generations of musicians. With the help of some organizations and a concert last weekend, Pearson has set up a scholarship that will enable public school students to learn jazz music at the Jazz Mobile program.

“This is a great honor for me and Pamela,” Pearson said. “I get to see her legacy continue.”

The concert was held at the African American Museum of Education & Applied Arts in Hempstead, L.I., and included performances from students who learned their notes from Smith-Pearson. She died days before her 57th birthday. Other professional artists from the Jazz Mobile also attended and contributed with some pieces as well.

The qualifying middle and high school students must be in the public school system in either New York City or Nassau County and audition for the grant, according to Pearson.

“They have to be at a certain level musically,” he said.

Raised in Jamaica, Smith-Pearson learned the clarinet at an early age and quickly acquired a passion for woodwind instruments and jazz. She excelled at playing the saxophone and flute, according to her husband.

Pearson said she was so talented that she could play any piece with any woodwind instrument in the orchestra.

“Whenever [anyone] called her for a concert, she would be there for them,” he said.

The Andrew Jackson High School alum earned a bachelor’s in music at Tennessee State University and a master’s in music education at Queens College.

After performing with different groups, including Jazz Mobile, she began to teach music at PS 45 in Ozone Park and IS 59 in Springfield Gardens, where she taught from 1993 to 2002.

Smith-Pearson and her husband moved to Nassau County, where she continued to teach music in Hempstead public schools until her death.

Barbara DeBerry worked alongside Smith-Pearson during her tenure at IS 59 and said her passion for music went beyond the classroom. She helped to start many classical music bands and choruses and even organized a live orchestra for the school’s plays and other live performances while stressing the history and cultural impacts of the jazz genre, according to DeBerry.

“She knew not everyone was going to make it in music, but she made everyone appreciate it,” she said.

DeBerry said several former students called and e-mailed her when they learned about the charity and offered their support.

The charity and scholarship also have the backing of several nonprofit groups, including the African American Museum of Education & Applied Arts in Hempstead and the 100 Black Men of Long Island Inc.

Phil Andrews, president of 100 Black Men, said he decided to give to the fund because he was moved at how the musician gave her all in spreading arts to minority students on Long Island.

“We believe education is part of our service and without scholarships you can’t get anywhere,” he said.

For more information on the Pamela Smith-Pearson scholarship, log on to jazzmobile.org.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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Reader feedback

Omar Lawrence from Cambria Heights says:
Wow, she was a great mentor for me when I attended I.S. 59 back in the mid-90s. She helped me learn the importance of music history, music theory, and music appreciation. She also saved me from getting jumped by local Springfield Gardens punks who one day decided to wait outside the school and follow me home by giving me a ride home instead of leaving me to take the bus. Aside from that, Ms Smith was an inspiration to me and my musical growth. Because of her, John Coltrane, Miles, Dizzy, Dexter and others also became my mentors. RIP, she truly was Heaven-sent.
Jan. 20, 2014, 6:32 pm

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