By Gabrielle Mix, Special to the Independent
Like most young children, Whitney Winefordner enjoyed entertaining herself and her family by singing around the house.
Her parents, Mary Jo and Carl, realized their daughter had something special, a voice so mature and soulful it seemed unusual coming from the tiny body of a bright-eyed, 5-year-old girl.
“We thought all kids kind of sing in tune, but she was exceptional,”Mrs. Winefordner said.
A question by the family babysitter, “when are you gonna get this kid lessons?”, prompted Whitney’s parents to act and start the first of many voice lessons to come.
Now 14, the Laguna Beach High School freshman has many public performances to her credit, including singing at school sporting events and recitals.
At a performance for her aunt’s memorial, Whitney studied and adopted the jazz and blues stylings of Eva Cassidy. Another Cassidy fan, one of Whitney’s elementary school teachers, sent a video of her studentto Wendy Milette, of the My Hero Film Festival in Laguna Beach.
Milette invited Whitney to perform in 2016 and again this year, encouraging her to compose an original song related to Sylvia Earle, the National Geographic explorer-in-residence and namesake of one of Hero Fest’s special awards. “I really wanted it to be original from Whitney. I wanted to trust her as a singer/songwriter,”Milette said.
With help from voice teacher Janet Bartucciotto and her mom, Whitney is ready to debut her original song, “My Blue Heart”at the Hero Fest, planned for 7 p.m.Saturday, June 2, at the Forum Theater at the Festival of Arts, 650 B Laguna Canyon Road.
She closes out the celebration, too, with “It’s a Wonderful World.”Classmate Larsen McCarroll will accompany her on the piano.
“There is a pureness in her voice that really resonates,”Milette said. “It has a way to penetrate right into people’s hearts”.
Each year the Hero Fest selects a winner of the Sylvia Earle Ocean Conservation Award. This year, “Gwala Rising in the Bwanabwana Islands,”a film directed by Stephani Gordon for Conservation International, is the recipient.
“Gwala Rising”was chosen by Laguna Beach resident Meghan and Barbara MacGillivray, who help lead One World One Ocean, an ocean conservation effort of MacGillivray Freeman Films. Earle is an advisor to One World One Ocean.
Fest organizers aim to expose the audience to their contributors —both young filmmakers and professionals —who capture stories about activism and promoting change.
The event, which is open to the public, will also feature live music, a digital art showcase and screening of short films earning awards in the 11th edition of the festival. General admission is $20 and tickets are free for students.
In previous years, My Hero fests focused on themes. This year, Milette said they focused on people that make positive differences both locally and globally.
One of these, the Community Hero award, will be presented to Judith Anderson, Ph.D., for the community programs she provides through her non-profit Foundation for the Contemporary Family.
“Judy Anderson is somebody that we have been aware of for many years. We try to look at some of the unsung heroes that are active in the community and go unnoticed,”Milette said.
Hero Fest helps foster community by shining light on local standouts, who have long devoted work to the community, such as Anderson, to the rising stars, such as Whitney.
“I feel really grateful to be able to give her space to share her talent and I’m grateful that the audience will be able to experience it as well,” Milette said of Whitney.
For Whitney, Laguna’s annual Hero Fest provides another opportunity to become more comfortable on stage and share her talent within her own community.
The festival has done the same thing for other young artists, who may have not been inspired to share their talents otherwise.
The author, from San Clemente, is a University of Arizona student.