Superb Musicianship Recognized in Florida - The 2018 VSA Florida Young Soloists have been Selected

VSA Florida is pleased to announce the winners of their 11th Annual 2018 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 goes out to 18-year-old vocalist, Stephanie Slagle from Hernando County and Matthew Cravener, age 23, from Leon County, Florida. Through a strict adjudication process facilitated by professors of music at the University of South Florida and Hillsborough County music professionals, the two will represent Florida in their quest for the international title.

The coveted annual international award goes 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 $2,000 award, professional development and a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. These 2018 winners will perform at 6:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 30, 2018; visit the Millennium Stage page to watch the concert live online.

Both the Florida and International Young Soloist Program seek 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 highlight their craft and performance ability at venues throughout Florida. Additionally, through a partnership with the Florida Orchestra and Ashley Furniture, each winner will have the opportunity to perform at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg in October 2018 at the orchestra’s annual Concert in the Park. 

Stephanie Slagle was playing songs and singing by the time she was 5 years old and so her passion and career began. Through early professional instruction and guidance, Stephanie has blossomed into a trained musical theatre performer with shows such as Annie, Beauty and the Beast, Carousel, Tarzan, A Christmas Carol and Suessical under her belt.  By the age of 13 the requests began coming in for her to sing the National Anthem at conferences in the United States, Canada and Mexico…not to mention the Tampa Bay Rays game! 


Stephanie attends Springstead High School in Spring Hill, Florida and remains active in their choir, theater and acting programs.  She is a 6-year veteran of the Florida All State Choir and performs regularly at her church. She has already experienced being a musical director and has composed original music for two short films, Songs For My Beloved, and Words Unspoken. Following graduation this year, Stephanie hopes to pursue a musical theatre and vocal performance degree.  She writes, as a VSA Florida Young Soloist with autism, “I would share how music has been an exit from being in my own world.  Thanks to music, I have learned to focus. The arts assist us to go beyond whatever we thought we could do”. 



Matthew Cravener began playing the piano when he was four years old and performed his first concert at six.  Now 23, with the repertoire and skill level achieved by few, one might call him a musical prodigy. He writes, “Music is my passion. It is the most important part of my life”.   

Much of Matthew’s formal music education came from Ruth Mason of Mason’s School of Music in Tallahassee, Florida. She says, “Matthew has an extraordinary talent when it comes to the piano. He outgrew his teachers quickly and has been a delight to work with”.  Not only can he play many classical pieces naturally by ear, but enjoys classic rock and popular tunes as well. Recently he was the featured performer of "Artists and Autism: An Evening of Music and Synergy" at the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts where he was accompanied by Grammy award winning guitarist, Larry Mitchell.  

In addition to performing, Matthew enjoys composing and producing original music. He has scored loads of tunes including 13 films for Red Eye Productions, commercial jingles, and albums such as Keys to the Cross and Matthew's Christmas for A.J.; proceeds of which were donated to charity. His film, Dammit Sugar, won the 2015 award for audience favorite at the Tallahassee Shorts Film Festival. 

Matthew shares with VSA Florida, “Music is one of the forces that gets me through the day as I face the challenges that include Tourette's syndrome and autism.  My goal is to become a nationally recognized film composer. Please visit my website and hear more of my music at” 


Monday, February 5, 2018 to Monday, May 7, 2018