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Honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Washington Performing Arts’s Ambassador of the Arts

Jenny Bilfield, President & CEO

Jenny Bilfield, Reginald Van Lee, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s impossible to convey the measure of love we feel for our friend, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the loss we feel at her passing. She was adored and revered by our community of Staff, Board, Women’s Committee, and Junior Board members, and we cherished moments of wonder and celebration at the many musical events shared.

RBG found resonance in Washington Performing Arts’s performances and arts education programs, as music had such a profound impact upon her own life and she championed excellence and access for others. Her deep and abiding friendship with our “Impresario Supreme,” as she called him, President Emeritus Doug Wheeler, was the catalyst for collaborations that centered the arts and culture in a city where power can often dominate the public narrative.

Some of the most memorable moments were often the most intimate: the generosity of her gratitude to artists, to staff, to those around her, expressed in personalized notes, remarks at musicales we co-coordinated at the Court, invitations to a private lunch or a reception with members of our team on a special occasion. In quiet, shared moments, and together with visiting artists, we talked about our marriages to spouses we loved, and the pleasure and challenges of working and parenting simultaneously.

As Tom Gallagher, our Chair of the Board of Washington Performing Arts, wrote me and others:

This is a grievous loss. A light has gone out that burned quietly and with great luminosity for decades. We are called to become that light ourselves, as we are able, to honor her and embody her determination to protect the vulnerable and empower those who feel powerless.

Indeed, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a role model, and we had so much to thank her for—and yet, her impulse was to thank and recognize all around her. As she entered a room, there was always a profound hush of anticipation. And as she has left us, a similar hush has settled in. May this sense of quiet and reflection give way to a rush of energy and determination—as we honor her legacy in our work and lives.

Remembering RBG

Doug Wheeler, President Emeritus, Washington Performing Arts
Chair, Friends of Music at the Supreme Court

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Douglas Wheeler

Justice Ginsburg with Washington Performing Arts President Emeritus Doug Wheeler at the Italian Embassy (2001)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a member of the Washington Performing Arts family in 2003, when she asked if we would partner with her in producing an annual musicale at the Court, a tradition started by Justice Blackmun and his friend Stephen Strickland that passed on to Justice O’Connor and now was in her hands.

In the 17 years since, scores of the most prominent performing artists of our time have come to the Court on an afternoon in May to perform for the Justices and friends. In recent years, a fall musicale was added in collaboration with the Richard Tucker Music Foundation.

The partnership became an affair of the heart. While presenting great artists has been the norm for Washington Performing Arts for over fifty years, planning and producing the musicales with Justice Ginsburg was as special as any experience one can imagine. Her love of the arts and artists was infectious, inspirational, and motivational.

Much has been, and will be, said about her many accomplishments and hero status. For those of us who knew and worked with her, she was an extraordinary and loyal friend. Always there to support us personally and professionally, the RBG we knew was loved by everyone. The musicale team of myself, Jenny Bilfield, Samantha Pollack, Meiyu Tsung, Hannah Grove-DeJarnett, Alexis Cooper, Roger Whyte, Kathy Shurtleff, and Kimberly McKenzie will be nurtured by the memory of her friendship forever.

50 Years, 50 Stories: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

For our 50th Anniversary video project, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reflected on Washington Performing Arts’s history and role in the D.C. community.

Washington Performing Arts Ambassador of the Arts Award
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2015 Recipient

Ambassador of the Arts Award Citation

Click to enlarge

About the Ambassador of the Arts Award

Washington Performing Arts’s Ambassador of the Arts Award recognizes extraordinary achievement, service, and advocacy in the performing arts by any individual. Justice Ginsburg received the award in 2015. Other Ambassador of the Arts Award recipients include:

  • Midori (2020), violinist, educator, and humanitarian
  • Sir James Galway (2019), flutist and educator
  • Lonnie G. Bunch III (2018), educator, historian, and the Founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Denyce Graves (2017), mezzo-soprano and educator
  • Jacqueline Badger Mars (2016), business leader and philanthropist
  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2015), Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
  • Leon Fleisher (2014), pianist, conductor, and educator
  • Jessye Norman (2013), soprano

Photo Gallery
Click to enlarge

1. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in conversation with journalist, friend, and Washington Performing Arts supporter Nina Totenberg as the Justice receives Washington Performing Arts’s Ambassador of the Arts Award (2015) [Photo: Chris Burch Photography]

2. Past Washington Performing Arts Chair of the Board Daniel Korengold, Justice Ginsburg, and Professor Martin Ginsburg at a Washington Performing Arts Gala (2007) [Photographer Unknown]

3. Hostess and Washington Performing Arts and Supreme Court Musicale Supporter Evelyn Nef shows Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor a special birthday cake commissioned to celebrate Justice Ginsburg’s 75th birthday (2008) [Photo: Washington Performing Arts Staff]

4. Justice Ginsburg greets violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter backstage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts alongside Washington Performing Arts then-President Neale Perle and President Emeritus Douglas Wheeler on the occasion of Washington Performing Arts’s Season Opening Celebration (2008) [Photo: Daniel Cima]

5. Mezzo-Soprano Susan Graham and an audience of colleagues and admirers applaud and pay reverence to the Justice at a Supreme Court Musicale (2009) [Photo: Courtesy of the Supreme Court]

6. Soprano Renée Fleming and her husband, Tim Jessel, visit with Justice Ginsburg at the home of Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter a following Ms. Fleming’s performance at the Kennedy Center. (2011) [Photo: Washington Performing Arts Staff]

7. Justice Ginsburg welcomes Friends of Music of the Supreme Court at a Musicale (2011) [Photo: Courtesy of the Supreme Court]

8. The Justice and Catherine Wheeler, wife of Doug Wheeler, enjoy the Washington Performing Arts Gala (2012) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

9. Justice Ginsburg, her son James Ginsburg, Jenny Bilfield, Joel Phillip Friedman, then-Chair of the Board Reginald Van Lee, and Supreme Court Musicale supporter and Washington Performing Arts Board Member and then-Vice Chair James Sandman look on at her Ambassador of the Arts Award celebration at the Embassy of Japan (2015) [Photo: Chris Burch Photography]

10. Jenny Bilfield, Washington Performing Arts’s President and CEO, shares with Justice Ginsburg her citation for the Ambassador of the Arts Award in 2015 at the Embassy of Japan [Photo: Chris Burch Photography]

11. Justice Ginsburg joined by then-Chair of the Board Reginald Van Lee, Jenny, soprano and composer (and daughter-in-law) Patrice Michaels, Doug, and dear friend and journalist, Nina Totenberg, post-event (2015) [Photo: Chris Burch Photography]

12. Justice Ginsburg with Washington Performing Arts past Board member Héctor J. Torres and his husband, Jay Haddock Ortiz, longtime Washington Performing Arts supporters and Friends of Music of the Supreme Court (2015) [Photo: Chris Burch Photography]

13. Justice Ginsburg greets schoolchildren alongside pianist Lang Lang and H.E. Cui Tiankai, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China, at a Supreme Court Musicale reception held at the Chinese Embassy (2016) [Photo: Courtesy of the Chinese Embassy]

14. Justice Ginsburg, together with Former Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae and Mrs. Sasae, as Jacqueline Badger Mars is honored as Washington Performing Arts’s Ambassador of the Arts following a performance by pianist Julie Gunn and baritone Nathan Gunn in a Washington Performing Arts Legacy Society Event at the Embassy of Japan (2016) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

15. Washington Performing Arts President Emeritus and Chair of Friends of Music at the Supreme Court Doug Wheeler and Justice Ginsburg at Washington Performing Arts’s Diplomatic Brunch at The Hay-Adams Hotel, together with the Justice’s friend, Aimee Ginsburg Bikel (2017) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

16. Jenny Bilfield, Reggie Van Lee, and the Justice celebrate at the Diplomatic Brunch (2017) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

17. Justice Ginsburg greets mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and her daughter, Ella, at the Diplomatic Brunch honoring Ms. Graves as she receives Washington Performing Arts’s Ambassador of the Arts Award (2017) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

18. Justice Ginsburg backstage at the Washington Performing Arts mainstage recital she co-curated in 2017 as Ambassador of the Arts, with (L-R) Doug Wheeler, pianist Myra Huang, soprano Susanna Phillips, bass-baritone Eric Owens, Supreme Court Musicale supporter and WPA Board member Peter Shields and his husband, Ace Werner, clarinetist Anthony McGill, and Jenny Bilfield [Photo: Washington Performing Arts Staff]

19. A Supreme Court Musicale dinner at the Kreeger Museum honoring violinist Itzhak Perlman with his wife, Toby Perlman, (L-R) Justice Ginsburg, co-host Ineke Kreeger, Justice Stephen Breyer, co-host Peter Kreeger, and Justice Elena Kagan (2017) [Photo: Washington Performing Arts Staff]

20. The Justice enjoys the Washington Performing Arts Gala at the National Building Museum with her good friend – and the night’s emcee – NPR journalist Nina Totenberg (2018) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

21. Doug Wheeler and the Justice celebrate their March birthdays at Washington Performing Arts’s annual Gala (2019) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

22. Mezzo soprano J’Nai Bridges and pianist Andrew Harley perform as Washington Performing Arts, Friends of Music of the Supreme Court, and National Museum of Women in the Arts honor the Justice’s 25 years on the Supreme Court and 85th Birthday in an intimate celebration at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (2018) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

23. Washington Performing Arts, Friends of Music of the Supreme Court, and National Museum of Women in the Arts honor the Justice’s 25 years on the Supreme Court and 85th Birthday in an intimate celebration at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; in this photo the Justice and her daughter-in-law, composer Patrice Michaels, salute one another at the conclusion of a remarkable performance (2018) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

24. Backstage at the Justice’s 85th birthday celebration with Jenny Bilfield, composer and daughter-in-law Patrice Michaels, and members of the Capital Hearings featured in Michaels’s THE LONG VIEW, a song cycle in which the choir highlighted key portions of some of the jurist’s most influential dissenting opinions in Supreme Court cases (2018) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

25. Backstage at the Justice’s 85th birthday celebration with THE LONG VIEW composer and daughter-in-law Patrice Michaels and artists featured in Michaels’s THE LONG VIEW, a song cycle highlighting stages and moments of Justice Ginsburg’s life and career (L–R): soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, Justice Ginsburg, Patrice Michaels, and pianist Andrew Harley (2018) [Photo: David Claypool/Kalorama Photography]

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