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Colonel Guy D Klemanski giving an award to Phil Ramon

Lt. Colonel Guy D. Klemanski (left), Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army Greater New York Division, presents legendary music producer Phil Ramone with The Salvation Army's "Pinnacle of Achievement Award" at the Greater New York Division's 65th Annual Gala.

The stars came out on Broadway on December 5th for The Salvation Army Greater New York Division, 14-time Grammy Award-winning music producer Phil Ramone, and the innovative music-education initiative for children that carries both their names.

Valerie Simpson, part of the legendary duo Ashford and Simpson and now a solo artist; singer-songwriter-pianist Peter Cincotti; and the evening's headline performer, the "Queen of Soul," Aretha Franklin --- all of whom had worked with Ramone during their careers --- performed on stage at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square at The Salvation Army's 65th Annual Gala which recognized the career and humanitarian work of Ramone, the evening's recipient of The Salvation Army's "Pinnacle of Achievement Award." Ramone is a partner with The Salvation Army in the creation of The Salvation Army Phil Ramone Orchestra for Children, a music-education program for children in underserved communities modeled after the landmark Venezuelan social-movement-through-music initiative, "El Sistema."

Now in its second year, the Orchestra serves 76 boys and girls, all students from three public schools in East Harlem, providing opportunities for learning and performing music. In addition to music education, the program also serves its young participants by teaching discipline, building self esteem, and encouraging leadership skills.

Simpson's performance led off the tribute concert that culminated the evening and featured renditions of "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," two timeless Motown classics Simpson wrote with her late husband, Nicholas Ashford. Peter Cincotti's exhilarating performance at the piano included odes to Billy Joel and Ray Charles, both Phil Ramone "alumni." Headline performer Aretha Franklin got the audience clapping and swaying with two of her most beloved signature tunes, "Chain of Fools" and "Respect."

All three artists gave their own spoken tributes to Ramone as well during their respective performances.

In addition to Ramone, The Salvation Army also honored the late Robert M. Frehse, Jr., former Executive Director of The Hearst Foundations and a long-time humanitarian who helped establish The Salvation Army's Hearst Endowment Fund for Family Strengthening and Preservation. Frehse's wife, Dale, a member of The Salvation Army Greater New York and Westchester Advisory Boards, accepted "The Community Service Award" on behalf of her husband, along with other members the Frehse family, and Frank A. Bennack, Jr., CEO of The Hearst Corporation.

Others recognized during the Gala included Bob Martin for his work and leadership as former Chairman of The Salvation Army Greater New York Advisory Board, and NYPD Officer Lawrence DePrimo, whose selfless act of buying a pair of boots for a shoeless man on the streets touched the hearts of New Yorkers everywhere.

Besides the honorees, other speakers at the Gala included Commissioner Israel L. Gaither, Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army Eastern Territory, who offered an uplifting Christmas message; Lt. Colonel Guy D. Klemanski, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army Greater New York Division, who provided the audience with a history of the Phil Ramone Orchestra and summary of The Salvation Army's disaster-relief response to Hurricane Sandy; and Kenneth Burton, Director of the Phil Ramone Orchestra, who talked about the impact of the Orchestra program on the lives of the participating students, several of whom came forward to give their own personal testimonies.

Two videos, one focusing on the Phil Ramone Orchestra, and the other on the disaster-relief response to Hurricane Sandy, punctuated the depth of The Salvation Army's work in the Greater New York area.

Beyond the featured musical artists, the program also included music by The Salvation Army's Greater New York Youth Band and Chorus, which performed a medley of Christmas carols, including the program finale, "O Come All Ye Faithful," led by Commissioner Eva D. Gaither, Territorial President of Women's Ministries for The Salvation Army Eastern Territory.

Greater New York Advisory Board and Gala Committee members Erin L. Esparza and Marcia Larson served as MCs to open and close the program. Reverend Jeff White of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church Downtown pronounced the Invocation, while Rabbi Yamin Levy of the Orthodox Sephardic Community of Great Neck and Kings Point, Long Island, gave the Benediction.

The Salvation Army Greater New York Division's annual holiday Gala, formerly a luncheon, began in the late 1940s and has evolved into a much-anticipated staple of the New York City holiday season.