It’s no small understatement to say that the College of Charleston influences the cultural arts in Charleston. The reality is that faculty, students, staff and alumni are inextricably woven into the fabric of the Holy City’s arts scene. Whether its musical entertainment, visual art, theater or some other genre, CougarNation plays a vital role supporting, creating and appreciating the arts.

Given that, it’s no surprise the headliner for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s (CJO) upcoming tribute to Ray Charles – Messin’ Around – is alumnus Manny Houston ’15. Houston, who refers to himself as a “creative,” is a musician, actor, dancer, choreographer and director, who also writes. As a student at the College, Houston majored in music performance (classical piano), but can also belt out tunes with the best of them.

On Saturday, April 20, 2019, at the Charleston Music Hall, Houston will put his many talents on display, playing, singing and acting as he leads the CJO’s 18-member band, including three backup singers. He’ll perform Charles’ classic hits such as “What I Say,” “Hit the Road” and “Georgia on my Mind.”

Houston, who currently calls Orlando, Fla., home, isn’t the only Cougar involved with the CJO. Professor Robert Lewis, who teaches jazz studies and saxophone in the Department of Music, is the organization’s music director and bandleader. He’s been involved with the CJO since its inception in 2008, first as the lead alto saxophonist, then as a board member and later as the director.

RELATED: Learn about Robert Lewis’ love for all things jazz.

“In my current role,” he says, “I choose the personnel and help choose the show themes for each season and the repertoires for each show. I’m also responsible for scheduling and running all the rehearsals and conducting the band during performances. Ultimately, I’m the public face of the band for interviews and meetings, etc.”

In addition to Lewis, Tatjana Beylotte ’00 is the organization’s acting director and development director and Brittany Burkett ’08 serves as the CJO’s marketing and development manager. And if that isn’t sufficient involvement by the College community, Arts Management Program director Karen Chandler is a member of the organization’s board.

Lewis says the CJO plays a full season of six different shows each year, adding that in recent years the organization has been steadily growing and increasing its artistic presence throughout the Lowcountry. For more information about the CJO, the Charleston Jazz Academy and the Charleston Jazz Festival visit the CJO’s website

And if you’re a Ray Charles fan, don’t miss Saturday’s concert at Charleston Music Hall!