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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Who is Dr. R. Francis Fawkes?


Dr. R. Francis Fawkes

At the age of 12, Francis was already a winner in the Music Festival for piano playing.  As early as 1964, “his articulation of fast notes; his delineation of staccato and legato; his handling of various dynamic levels and beautiful tone throughout” was noticed by the adjudicator of the Royal Schools of Music.  He singled him out as a student of great potential.

A year later, Francis gave a command performance before Princess Alice, the then Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.  At 14 years, he was to travel to Freeport, Grand Bahama to perform by request for the renowned concert pianist Withold Malcuzinski, one of the world’s foremost exponents of the music of Frédéric Chopin.  He recognized his talent.

Francis received his early musical training from Mrs. Gloria Lockhart, Mrs. Meta Davis Cumberbatch and E. Clement Bethel.  It was Mrs. Cumberbatch who recognized his potential and offered him opportunities for exposure.  At the age of 14, Francis also accepted an invitation to spend two summers at the National Music Camp in Michigan, a meeting place for gifted children from America and other parts of the world.  It was there that he was introduced to Van Clibun by E. Clement Bethel.  He also heard other keyboard celebrities at the time who inspired him to excellence.

In June 1967, when the call went out to the Regency Hotel in New York for Bahamians abroad to return home and become involved in the national building process.  Francis was there playing Chopin.

He furthered his training in 1970, while attending the Jamaica School of music.  It was there that he obtained his grade 8 music theory and won first place in the National Open House Competition.  Upon Francis' return home, he gave a recital of classical music.  It ran the gamut from Bach to Debussy before an overflowing and appreciative audience in the spacious St. Mary’s Hall.  The Tribune’s critic acclaimed him as, “an artist with great sensitivity of style and a formidable technique.”  In 1972 Francis auditioned for entrance into the Royal Academy of Music in London.  His mentors were Guy Johnson and Sidney Harrison.  In 1976, he completed his studies and received his credentials in music with an emphasis on piano performance.

In Nassau, Francis taught in the private schools in addition to giving piano lessons at his studio situated at 115 J.F.K. Drive.  He has also taught at St. John’s College and Lyford Cay International School.  During the summers of 1979 to 1982 at the University of Maryland, Francis had further exposure to the seminars and master classes of celebrated pianists such as Leon Fletcher, George Bolet, Louis Kentner and several other celebrities.  It was there that he expanded his repertoire and his worldview.  He did a further eight-week course at the University of Hartford, Connecticut in 1987.  Later that same year, he performed in Atlanta in a special ceremony held in honour of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  For this he received a standing ovation.

Francis has made a mark on the nation according to his calling.  His teaching and impact have produced outstanding participants, especially at the E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival.  Their piano marks are a matter of record.  His former protégés are Gregory Hall, Sandra Burrows, Sean Hanna (former president of the Nassau Music Society, Flora Simpson (former piano accompanist for the National Youth Choir), Naomi Hoogendoorn, Paul and Tanya Hanna.  He has also impacted Dr. Dion Cunningham.  These artists in their own right are perpetuating the artistic tradition.

He was to see his teaching go quite far.  His most progressive youthful student was prodigy Tussah Heera (nee Shah).  She has won first place prizes in the United States while studying in Nassau with Mr. Fawkes from 2006-2007.  Living in Las Vegas, she revisited the Bahamas to perform.  Tussah received standing ovations for both recitals.  Her phenomenal technique and mature artistry astonished the Nassau Music Society audience.  She attended Canada's Royal Conservatory of Music as a scholarship student.  In 2017, Tussah graduated with a Degree in Music with an emphasis on piano performance.

Mr. Fawkes has also impacted and given guidance to the international top prize winner and concert pianist George Li.  This pianist became global at the age of nineteen after winning the Silver Medal in the 15th Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition 2015.  The New York Times has described this artist as a “powerhouse” and a “revelation.”  Another successful young concert artist that he impacted was Wei Luo of China.  Through prophetic counselling and artistic discussions, she became internationally acclaimed, touring America and China with solo and concerto performances.  Clayton Stephenson of America also became the first black finalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition 2022 on Dr. Fawkes’ motivational advice.  Dr. Fawkes’ advice to them was “always reflect the Glory of God” in addition to the Salvation message.

Francis also assisted in the musical production of both autograph parties of the book of his Father.  His book “The Faith that Moved the Mountain” is now a national best seller.  His father was also honoured posthumously as The Right Excellent Sir Randol Fawkes, N. H., KB.  Francis went up to receive the honour at Government House, the 19th of November, 2020.

For many years. Francis has also written Christian columns for The Nassau Guardian and The Tribune which have been compiled in a book called Christian Perspectives.  Francis is an avid writer as well.  The secrets of his skills are preserved in his book: The Art of Playing the Piano.  This book was also serialised in the Nassau Guardian for a number of months.  Added to this is a demonstration of his skills.  There are three CD’s: Great Piano Favourites; Inspirational Piano Classics and Anointed Piano Classics for Easy Listening.  Francis also assisted in the production and the autograph parties of the book of his Father, Sir Randol Fawkes.  His book “The Faith that Moved the Mountain” is a national bestseller for many years.

In 1987, he took up an appointment with the Ministry of Education and Culture.  In his capacity, he became the official accompanist for the National School of Dance (1988-2004).  He has also been the accompanist for Dance World and Bahamas Dance Theater, especially for the Royal Academy of Dancing Examinations.  He also became the official piano accompanist for the E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival in which he was instrumental in the increased choral and solo instrumental performances.  This expansion included an increase in the classics as well as indigenous categories at all age levels in 1993.  At the Department of Culture, Francis was also the head of the Cultural Resource Center and webmaster at the Ministry of Education.  Mr. Fawkes became a founding member of the first committee to spearhead the music BGCSE examinations.  He gave input into the formation of the new examination syllabus, and the revision of the school curriculum.  Since 1993, he acted as one of the examiners in Nassau and the Family Islands.  In 1999 he became the Chief Paper Setter/Administrator for the music BGCSE examinations.  He continued beyond his retirement in 2017 as a paper-settler.

However, his main contributions to the Cultural landscape of the Bahamas are the timeless piano classics for which he is widely recognized.  They have also been heard in the Turks and Caicos Islands and certain parts of the United States.  He has been noted for his outstanding performances with the Police Band, the YWCA and other organisations.  His live piano recitals have earned him dazzling reviews.  His Quincentennial piano recital was regarded by one of the newspapers as a “landmark event.” To enhance appreciation for the classics Francis has also done a running radio commentary of composers and their music.  As a member of the Nassau Music Society and a liaison person for the Ministry of Education schools, he has arranged concerts for students, especially for The Moscow Soloists’ Orchestra.

He has been seen on national television performing the most challenging pieces in the classical piano repertoire.  They were broadcasted performances of the virtuoso works aired in 1987, 1989, 2004 and 2009.  As far back as 1994, these works were put into slots and played repeatedly thereby enhancing the appreciation of classical music nationally.  He did this for many years afterwards.  It was written by Mr. Fawkes in the Nassau Tribune column Tele Talk that “he performs with bravura to show that he understands musical drama and finishes up the moment with fine striking power.”

Francis also has a Christian ministry with a slant towards the classics.  In earnest, he began playing at New Testament Church on Dolphin Drive in the 70’s.  In his 20’s, he would often witness salvation to many, including those in his profession.  In 1987, he learnt of his calling through Bahamas Faith Ministries International.  While a frequent attendant there, he received the anointing for music by laying on of hands.  It was at Bahamas Faith Ministries that he imbibed many Kingdom principles giving his vision greater definition and direction.  He has been a regular Sunday School Teacher and performer at Carmichael Bible Church from 1987 to 2014.  Since 1987, Francis began a five-year teaching and performance ministry at Golden Gates Assembly.  His community work has included preaching, performing and teaching at Creative Christian Arts Ministries International from 2014 to 2016.  This is a youth outreach formed by Apostle Henry Higgins and Dr. Ann Higgins.

Mr. Fawkes has completed an Associate Degree in Biblical Studies awarded through Vision University in California.  In November 2007, he went on to obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Christian Psychology and Counseling with Honours from Destiny Christian University which is based in Florida.  Later on, at New Covenant University based in Tennessee.  At the Nassau Campus, Francis went on to graduate with a Master of Theology Degree with a 3.90 GPA, and finally a Doctor of Theology Degree with 4.00 GPA on the 15th June, 2011.  Praise be to God!

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