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Leotha Stanley, left, congratulates Keani Braxton, a senior at Madison Memorial High School, after she received a violin last month at the seventh annual Gospels Carols. Braxton, who already owns a violin, will donate the instrument. 

Leotha Stanley took an unusual approach when presenting donated violins and gift certificates for music lessons to high school students during a concert intermission.

He projected pictures on a screen of himself competing in high jump — a sport in which he set records as a high schooler and at UW-Madison. He also still holds a record in the long jump at the university’s outdoor facility. The pictures had been clipped from newspapers and he said it is this kind of acknowledgment that can make a difference for students.

“It was the recognition that I got that motivated me to keep going and take it to the next level because people saw me that way,” Stanley said. “They saw me as a high jumper so I performed as a high jumper.”

Six area students were honored with violins and lessons through a fundraising effort spearheaded by Stanley. They were presented during the recent Gospel Carols concert that Stanley and his wife, Tamera Stanley, put on every year. This was the first year of what will become an annual Gospel Carols Strings Sponsorship to give more students violins and lessons.

The students are Kenesha Patterson, East High School; Tyra Johnson, Verona High School; Jonathan Gunderson, Sun Prairie High School; Danielle Crim, West High School; and Keani Braxton and Tenzin Sopa, Memorial High School.

The choir at the concert is accompanied by an orchestra made up of musicians from local area churches, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and others from the greater Madison area. This year, the orchestra included two of the students who were honored — Braxton and Sopa, who are seniors.

“I always have a hard time finding people of color to play,” said Stanley, an African-American. “What better way to get people of color (for the orchestra than) to grow them into the area.”

His plan is to start motivating students now in hopes that they will continue playing beyond high school.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Stanley said. “It is a way for me to give back, also.”

Crim, who has been playing since fifth grade, said the violin she has been using is “not that good of quality” and the new one will be easier to play.

“I felt really excited,” Crim, a freshman, said about receiving the violin.

Stanley said he talked to high school orchestra directors to find students who had recognizable talent and interest.

Gunderson, whose first music teacher as a Sun Prairie elementary student was Stanley’s daughter Letrice, said he has been playing since sixth grade and the new violin will make it easier to continue playing in the orchestra when he attends Brigham Young University—Idaho after graduation.

Heid Music of Madison gave deep discounts on the violins. Others contributors were Alliant Energy Center, Dan Checki, Judy Kornemann, Jeff Patterson of JP Hair Design, ProSquared, Howard Landsman and the Jennings Family (Tamera Stanley’s family).

To contribute, contact Stanley at