Wesla Whitfield's story is one of amazing talent, dedication, perseverance and strength," SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan said. She has achieved national stature as a jazz and cabaret vocalist, yet has maintained her Bay Area and San Francisco State connections. Ms. Whitfield provides true inspiration for San Francisco State students and embodies the outstanding quality of education offered in our music department. It is an honor to welcome her back to campus to receive this award."
Whitfield, 53, has brought her smooth jazz vocals to venues across the United States and beyond for more than 25 years. While at SFSU, she began singing in Bay Area clubs, bars and even in restaurants as a singing waitress -- all the while supporting herself as a paralegal and computer programmer. After graduating, she performed with the San Francisco Opera for four years before deciding to focus on jazz, blues and cabaret performing.
While walking home from a rehearsal in 1977, Whitfield's life was changed forever. Two adolescent boys grabbed her and flashed a gun. She was shot several times, causing her to be paralyzed permanently from the waist down. Undeterred by her disability, the Santa Maria, Calif., native has persevered to tour nationwide frequently and garner praise from critics at the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice and San Francisco Chronicle. Her repertoire includes songs by the likes of Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and George and Ira Gershwin.
Whitfield lives in San Francisco with her husband Michael Greensill, who is also her accompanist and musical arranger.
The Alumni Association is tremendously pleased that Ms. Whitfield is being honored this year," said Rita Harrington, president of the SFSU Alumni Association. The career that she has built with her wonderful talent and her determination has been an inspiration to so many."
The annual Alumnus of the Year award goes to former SFSU students who have gained recognition for significant contributions to their field of work. Whitfield joins an illustrious roster of SFSU alumni to receive the award, including last year's honoree, Robert Pasker, a history graduate who gave $2.4 million to SFSU, the largest private donation in the history of the University. In previous years, the SFSU Alumni Association has honored recording artist Johnny Mathis, stage and film actress Annette Bening, conductor Kent Nagano, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, and physician and NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle.