The lifetime achievements in the fine arts by six Waxahachie High School alumni were honored Saturday evening at the Performing Arts Center, where the ceremony also showcased current students’ works as a preview to what the future holds.
The event was the third annual WHS Fine Arts Hall of Fame induction ceremony, with six honorees recognized: professional photographer Brent Winn, motion picture art director Bryan Felty, choral director Deborah Tidwell, sound engineer Gary French, radio broadcaster and producer Jesus “Crazy Chuy” Hernandez and director, cinematographer and photographer Michael Underwood. All are widely recognized and many times award winners in their respective disciplines.
The Fine Arts Hall of Fame is an extension of the Waxahachie Ex-Students’ Association, which honored its alumni Hall of Fame and Sports Hall of Fame inductees in the fall.
“In 2015, we talked about honoring our fine arts alumni and set up the hall of fame with three goals in mind,” fine arts chair Margaret Felty said. “To bring attention to the fine arts, to honor students from the past and to give scholarships to current students.”
Felty emceed the evening with WHS drama department head director Andy Reynolds, who extended the committee’s appreciation to the event’s sponsors and silent auction donors.
“Thank you [to those] who make our scholarship awards possible,” he said. “We have given over $8,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors.”
A short video was screened for each of the honorees, with each depicting key moments from his or her life, from childhood to career highlights. Each then took the stage to share a few words.
Brent Winn, class of 1972, has served as a staff member and contract professional photographer for numerous news organizations, government entities and individuals, with his work recognized by National Press Photography.
In his remarks, Winn expressed his appreciation to Waxahachie High School and his family. He also extended his thanks to Stephen and Rebecca (Bigham) Wright, who have funded an annual $1,000 scholarship in his name.
“Brent has spent his life working in his chosen field of photograph and has shown us what a life in the arts looks like,” Rebecca Wright (class of 1973) wrote in a letter. “Many of us share this love of the arts, so it is an honor to pass this love on to the young Fine Arts students of our future. And what better place to start than in our hometown of Waxahachie.”
“Thank you very much,” Winn said in accepting the honor.
Bryan Felty’s body of work includes having served on the team that won a 2019 Academy Award for production design for the Marvel movie, “Black Panther.”
“This has been a big week for me,” said the class of 1984 graduate, who has credits on more than 50 projects, ranging from big budget blockbusters to television series and independent films. “With ‘Black Panther’ winning and this, it’s been amazing.”
Quoting Academy Award-winning director and WHS graduate, Robert Benton, who made several of his films in Waxahachie, Felty said, “Waxahachie is where a lot of what I am got figured out.” He expressed his hope that future graduates would all follow their dreams, as well.
“Just have the commitment and stick with it,” he said. “Luck is what you make for yourself.”
Felty extended his gratitude to his family and to “Waxahachie, for starting me on my path and being the walkway to my dreams.”
Class of 1968 graduate Deborah Tidwell spent 30 years teaching in public schools, with her award-winning choirs playing Carnegie Hall, among other honors. In introducing her, Reynolds noted how her work has touched “thousands of lives” over time.
A Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers and Teacher of the Month recipient, Tidwell remains active in music, serving as a church musician and founding board member of Waxahachie’s Old-Fashioned Singing Project, which is in its sixth season.
“This was certainly an unexpected phone call,” Tidwell said, noting the difficulty in condensing her career and its many students into a five-minute video. “Thank you very much to the association and the committee. This is just a great honor.”
Class of 1969 graduate Gary French has worked in film, TV, stage and live studio, and currently serves as head sound engineer for the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. His body of work includes working on the TV series “Wishbone,” “Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius” and “Barney,” while picking up an Emmy and numerous other awards at national and international film and video festivals along the way.
Thanking the committee and his wife, French said, “It’s been a lot of fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t a lot of fun. … I thank you for this honor.”
Jesus “Crazy Chuy” Hernandez
Jesus “Crazy Chuy” Hernandez, class of 1970, embarked on a career in Tejano music after graduation. His career in radio extends through today, with his online presence, www.ChicanoExpress.com, streaming from Waxahachie to the world. He’s been named a “Living Legend” and is also an inductee in the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame.
“Never give an open mic to a radio DJ,” he joked before expressing his appreciation to the association and fine arts committee. “I’m just a blind guy who loves to play music and be on the radio. …
“I was blessed by God for giving me the talent,” he said, thanking also “all of the musicians I’ve played with over the years” and his wife, “Mrs. Chicano Express.”
“For 48 years, you’ve been the love of my life,” he said.
The evening’s final inductee, class of 1973 graduate Michael Underwood, said, “It’s good to be home. It’s been a long time.”
Quoting novelist George Moore, he said, “We travel the world to search for our needs and return home to find them.”
In his video, Underwood had shared those teachers who had impacted his life as a WHS student, including Lucille Smith, Wanda Cain, Kathy Howard, James McNeil and Pat Sawyer.
“All contributed in no small way to lay out a path for me to have a successful career,” he said. “Those were fantastic times and fragile times, sublime with the confidence of youth. I was the grateful recipient of their mentoring.”
In offering his encouragement to the young people on hand, Underwood said, “Don’t let the good interfere with the great” while also passing along wisdom he’d received from his mother, celebrating her 90th birthday and on hand for his induction into the hall of fame.
“All I am I owe to her,” he said. “My mother is a survivor … and she taught me to carry on with disregard to any obstacles. She taught me power and courage and placed her children at the center of her world. I am truly my mother’s son.”
Continuing with his remarks, he said, “For those eager to pursue the arts, I offer this: Happiness must happen [and] you have to let it happen by not caring about it. … Everything else will follow.”
Noting that none of his work would have been possible “without the love of my life, Cindy,” Underwood said of the recognition, “I am truly and deeply honored.”
Interspersed with the recipient presentations were performances by the WHS Jazz Band under the direction of Rich Armstrong, the WHS Jazz Choir under the direction of Jeremiah Ieppert and the Cherokee Charmer Officers under the direction of Erica Wilcox.
In the foyer were exhibits of current students’ art, with fine arts teacher Sean Cagle on hand, along with culinary arts chef Joel Skipper and his students, who prepared and served a dessert buffet for guests.
Information about the Waxahachie Ex-Students Association is available online at https://waxahachieexstudents.org/.