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The U.S. Air Force Band Names Newest Honorary Commander

Col. Don Schofield, Commander and Conductor of The U.S. Air Force Band, confers the title of Honorary Commander of The U.S. Air Force Band to Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in a ceremony held at the Bolling Club on May 14, 2021 (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Kevin Tanenbaum)

Col. Don Schofield, Commander and Conductor of The U.S. Air Force Band, confers the title of Honorary Commander of The U.S. Air Force Band to Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in a ceremony held at the Bolling Club on May 14, 2021 (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Kevin Tanenbaum)

Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., was named Honorary Commander of The U.S. Air Force Band in a ceremony at the Bolling Club on May 14, 2021.

Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., was named Honorary Commander of The U.S. Air Force Band in a ceremony at the Bolling Club on May 14, 2021.

Jenny Bilfield, President of the Washington Performing Arts (WPA) and The U.S. Air Force Band’s previous honorary commander, was named Honorary Commander Emeritus in a ceremony held at the Bolling Club on May 14, 2021. She is the first honorary commander emeritus in the Band’s history.

Jenny Bilfield, President of the Washington Performing Arts (WPA) and The U.S. Air Force Band’s previous honorary commander, was named Honorary Commander Emeritus in a ceremony held at the Bolling Club on May 14, 2021. She is the first honorary commander emeritus in the Band’s history.

JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, D.C. --

In a ceremony held at the Bolling Club on May 14, 2021, units from across the 11th Wing inducted 16 honorary commanders as part of the wing’s newly created Honorary Commanders (HCC) program. Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., was named honorary commander of The U.S. Air Force Band.

Ms. Rutter has emerged as one of the nation’s most adroit leaders in the arts, combining artistic daring with fiscal sustainability, inclusivity, and responsiveness to the needs of the community. She has served as president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts since September 2014 and has been recognized by Washingtonian magazine as one of the most powerful women in Washington (2015, 2017, and 2019).

Today, Ms. Rutter is reshaping Kennedy Center offerings to include more artist-led programming while challenging people across the industry to reimagine creative expression through the lens of cross-disciplinary collaborations. An adept team builder, Rutter is drawing some of the world’s most visionary and iconic artists to the Kennedy Center’s creative team, including cellist YoYo Ma, soprano Renée Fleming, singer-songwriter Ben Folds, and DJ and composer Mason Bates; as well as the Center’s first Artistic Director of Hip Hop Culture, Q-Tip.

Working at the vanguard of community engagement, Ms. Rutter manages one of the nation’s most extensive arts education networks, reaching millions of people of all ages across all 50 states with live performances, as well as providing multidisciplinary arts training and support to schools, students, children at risk, teachers, artists, and civic leaders.

In addition to this first class of HCC program inductees, Jenny Bilfield, president of Washington Performing Arts (WPA) and the Band’s previous honorary commander, was named honorary commander emeritus. She has served as the Band’s honorary commander since 2016, and is the first person to hold this title.

Based in Washington, D.C. and founded in 1965, WPA has long been one of the nation’s preeminent multi-disciplinary arts presenters and was the first organization of its kind to receive the coveted National Medal of Arts, conferred by President Obama at the White House. Bilfield has positioned WPA as an important incubator of imaginative mainstage, community, and education programs and a commissioner of new works and productions. 

Most recently, at WPA, Ms. Bilfield has spearheaded high-impact community arts programs like Mars Arts D.C., large-scale performances, and convened a multi-partner collaboration for the revival of Step Afrika’s The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, which brought together other local institutions such as The Phillips Collection and the 11th Street Bridge Park. Additionally, Bilfield launched the citywide SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, bringing orchestras from all over the country to Washington, D.C. for an immersive week of free and low-cost performances and residencies around the city. Since arriving at Washington Performing Arts in 2013, Bilfield has been recognized by Washingtonian magazine as one of the most powerful women in Washington (2013, 2015, and 2017).

The U.S. Air Force Band already enjoys a long and fruitful relationship with WPA. Previous collaborative projects date back to 2015 with “Sila” by John Luther Adams, and most recently on performances of Christopher Tin’s “To Shiver The Sky” and the 2020 Fourth of July concert, “A Tribute to the American Spirit,” with guest artists Joshua Bell, Larisa Martínez and Soloman Howard.

Since its inception, the HCC program’s main purpose is to educate influential members of the local community on Air Force missions and priorities, and increase military involvement in civic outreach and engagement. The program’s ultimate goal is to cultivate community partnerships by pairing local civic leaders with military commanders. Furthermore, it encourages open communication and provides civic leaders an opportunity to inform unit commanders on local concerns, while advocating for, and increasing understanding of, military culture and support of its various missions in the National Capital Region.

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Zuhlsdorf, 11th Wing and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Commander, held a simple and straightforward vision for the HCC program. He states, “I had only one requirement for who I wanted recruited into the program: leaders. Exactly like the squadron commanders that I have here on base, I wanted leaders that would make great teammates for us and we would make great teammates for them.”

Col. Zuhlsdorf knew that in order for the program to be effective, it would need to build close-knit relationships. “The Honorary Commanders program is about bringing us together to enhance the readiness of our community through partnerships,” states Zuhlsdorf. 

Additionally, the reasoning behind the program is transparent. Col. Zuhlsdorf explains, “Our kids attend the public and private schools. Our adults go to the universities and colleges. Everybody attends professional sporting events, concerts, performances, we dine in the restaurants, we vote in the elections, and we take advantage of living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”

The HCC program is an exciting prospect for unit commanders and civilian leaders alike and will be interesting to see the results of these fruitful relationships. Much is to be learned from each other.

“As you now become an honorary commander, know that you are the newest partners in our flock,” said Col. Zuhlsdorf. “Together we will work to improve the readiness of our organizations, the heritage of our entire community, and the partnerships that will increase our successes.”

The U.S. Air Force Band looks forward to the new partnership with Ms. Rutter and the Kennedy Center, and the enduring partnership with Ms. Bilfield and Washington Performing Arts.