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ThanksUSA: Four Seasons Hotel hosts a musical tribute to military families

For Rachel and Kelsi Okun, two young Virginia sisters, it was a “brain blast” five years ago that propelled them into action. Inspired by their neighbor, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Lanier Ward, who had been severely injured in Iraq, the girls, together with their dad Bob, created ThanksUSA, a nonpartisan charitable project dedicated to awarding scholarships (2,200 so far) to families in all military branches.

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann

Tuesday evening, the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown was host to a magical evening of musical performances from some of the nation’s brightest young stars, and culminated with the stirring voice of the multi-talented national treasure, Dominic Chianese.

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann

Webcasted worldwide, the evening began with Master of Ceremonies, Leon Harris of ABC7/WJLA-TV, the first of many to express heartfelt “tremendous gratitude for the daily sacrifices of our troops and their families.” “Academically unstoppable” Anteah Jones, an Air Force Reserve spouse, poised to earn degrees in criminology and psychology early next year, was on stage to receive a $3,000 ThanksUSA scholarship.

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann

Child prodigies Bluegrass and acoustic guitarist Cody Kilby and fiddler Andy Leftowich dazzled the audience with instrumental numbers including “Faultline,” a song written after Andy lost a tennis match.

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann

Nineteen-year-old Margot MacDonald, five time Wammies (Washington Area Music Awards) winner and Duke Ellington School of the Arts alumna, rocked with songs from her award-winning album Walls. With her “new toy”, the loop pedal (a digital sampler creating repetitive, rhythmic musical patterns and layered sounds), MacDonald treated guests to an acoustical ride with an exquisite vocal range.

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann

Claiming his “suburban roots”, D.C. native (who also grew up in Maryland) and Georgetown University alumni (law and business degrees) Jazz great Marcus Johnson and the

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann

Three Keys played an eclectic selection of pop/rock/jazz top billboard favorites. On keyboard, composer and producer Johnson played from his new 12th CD, This is How I Rock.

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann

By his own description, Dominic Chianese was born to sing, but only began his professional musical career 20 years into a distinguished stage career. The characters he’s played, perhaps more than the wonderful voice is what audiences know best about this beloved talent. Roles include Johnny Ola (The Godfather II), Uncle Junior (The Sopranos) and most recently Stuart Zedeck (Damages). As a tribute to “grandpa who came to this country in 1904” Chianese sang ballads including the Neapolitan classic, “ 'O Sole Mio” and ended with a touching audience sing-along rendition of “America.”

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Judith Beermann
Judith Beermann