Excellent Musicianship Exceeds Disability - 2016 VSA Florida Young Soloists Selected

VSA Florida is pleased to announce the winners of their 9th Annual 2016 VSA Florida Young Soloist Competition who will be representing the State of Florida in the VSA International Competition in Washington, D.C. later this year.  Congratulations to 20 year old lyric soprano, Lyudmilla Fuentes from Polk County, 18 year old pianist James Williams from Pasco County and Jacqueline Blanche, 21, from Charlotte County. The three artists were selected through a strict adjudication process facilitated by Tampa Bay professors of music at the University of South Florida and HCC Ybor and will now represent Florida in their quest for the international title.

The Florida and International Young Soloist Program seeks to identify talented musicians age 14-26 who have a disability with the intention of increasing their likelihood for successful careers in the arts. This outstanding program delivers by offering opportunities to serious music students to showcase their craft and performance ability at venues throughout Florida. Additionally, through a partnership with the Florida Orchestra and Ashley Furniture, each winner will perform at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg in October 2016 at the orchestra’s annual Concert in the Park. The coveted international award is given annually to four outstanding musicians, two from the United States and two from the international arena, providing an opportunity for these emerging musical artists to each earn a $2,500 award, professional development and a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Lyudmilla Fuentes attended DePaul University School of Music in Chicago studying with renowned opera singer, Michael Sylvester after graduating fifth in her high school class at Central Florida Aerospace Academy.  She’s currently interning at Sarasota Opera, where she is working with make-up designers and wig masters during their opera season.  Lyudmilla continues to study with her lifetime mentor and renowned international opera singer, Stella Zambalis.  She intends to return to academia in the fall at New College of Florida.

Lyudi is a six-time VSA Florida Young Soloist with her eye on the International title that has been just out of her reach. She’s been recognized with accolades nationally and internationally for her involvement in the arts, performing opera in six different languages.  She has studied under top opera voice coaches including renowned international opera singers, soprano Stella Zambalis and Russian baritone Vladimir Chernov as well as Jane Klavitter of the Bel Canto Faculty in Florence, Italy and at the Frost School of Music in Salzburg, and Professor John Thomasson at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. 

Lyudmilla was adopted to a family in Florida after being born with Poland Disease in Siberia, Russia. Her musical career began when she was ten and selected to sing with the Miami Children’s Chorus for the Florida Grand Opera. She’s been a winner at NATS and the first round of Classical singer as well as finalist for the Imperial Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition, Tampa Bay Symphony, and Suncoast/St. Petersburg Opera Guild. In December 2013 she was part of the Tampa Opera Chorus performing with Andrea Bocelli.



James A Williams fell in love with classical music when quite young and taught himself, by ear, to play the piano despite the lack of formal training or the ability to even read sheet music.  Autism makes this gift even more relevant.  After winning a school talent show in 2010, James produced a fundraising CD, A Moment with the Classics. He tells us, “I really enjoy playing classical pieces because it touches other people’s lives.  My music has given me the ability to reach out to the local community and also to assist in raising dollars for nonprofit organizations. James will attend Pasco Hernandez State College in preparation to seek a music degree from South Eastern University.

Since beginning his musical journey over the past 7 years, James has put numerous music performance competitions under his belt that includes the FAF (Fine Art Festival) in Orlando, Louisville and Phoenix. In 2014 he won Spotlight on Talent at the Heritage Arts Center and has performed for VIP guests at the closing ceremony of the Martin Luther King Day celebrations organized by the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival.  James has been honored to perform for Temple Grandin at the CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) annual conference in Orlando, at the Tampa Yacht Club and continues to share his gift with churches, nursing/retirement/veterans homes, coffee houses and local businesses in the Tampa Bay area.

“Playing the piano brings me peace and solace from difficult times and the courage to overcome adversity.  I am more able to concentrate when I play my classical music and love to see the enjoyment of others when I play for them”.


Jacqueline Blanche is a former student at Florida State University and a member of their a cappella group, AcaBelles.  She’s now studying music at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers and plans to seek a degree in music therapy from Florida Gulf Coast University next.  She has participated in numerous performance based groups including community theatre since middle school and on into high school at Booker High Visual and Performing Arts School in Sarasota. 

Jacqueline has studied privately taking voice, saxophone and piano lessons leading her to vocal jazz group performances that include Disney World and the coveted Berklee College of Music’s’ High School Jazz Festival in Boston.  Although just dealing with a recent diagnosis of a processing disability, Jacqueline has full intentions to continue her musical performance and educational track that will fulfill her aspirations.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016 to Thursday, June 30, 2016