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For founder of youth orchestra playing NFL Honors, mission goes beyond music

When the 11th edition of NFL Honors kicks off Thursday, the stars of the 2021 season will be center stage. But the musicians providing the soundtrack will be celebrating their own triumphant moment.

The Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA) is the largest majority African American orchestra in the country. ICYOLA played at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2011. It performed in the short film Cap (2019) and the Oscar-winning animated short film If Anything Happens I Love You (2020).

Thursday, though, will mark a new benchmark: while acting as the house orchestra for NFL Honors, performing the instrumentals of several different pieces throughout the show, ICYOLA will appear for the first time on national television.

“It means a lot,” said Hannah Innis, a cellist in the orchestra, last week. “I’m very happy that ICYOLA is being recognized for what it is.”

When Charles Edward Dickerson III founded ICYOLA in 2009, the group started as nine instrumentalists who asked Dickerson to help them put together a summer workshop centered around playing music. By the end of the workshop, it had grown in numbers, and the artists wanted to continue playing under Dickerson’s leadership.

Music has been a driving force in Dickerson’s life since he was a kid. His father, Charles Edward Dickerson II, directed a church choir, and his mother, Ethel Hartie Dickerson, was a choir member. At the time that he started ICYOLA, Dickerson was the conductor of the Southeast Symphony, the longest continuously performing primarily African American orchestra in the world.

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