“It’s a wonderful piece for mezzo soprano and saxophone,” she explains.


The stage veteran, 49, was one of several judges on hand — in addition to Patti LaBelle, “American Idol” alum Jordin Sparks, and “Glee’s” Amber Riley — for Tuesday’s fifth annual DC-CAPital Stars Talent Competition at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The event held by the D.C. College Access Program (DC-CAP) featured a performance by high-school students from the nation’s capital and awarded several scholarships, including a $10,000 DC-CAP college scholarship to 17-year-old vocalist Chabeli Arroyo, a student at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

David Domenici, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the son of former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), was also among the evening’s 2013 special honorees.

Graves said ahead of the competition that awarding the scholarship struck a personal note: “I did a lot of competitions by the time I was an undergraduate at the [Oberlin College] Conservatory.” She added, “[I] was able to put myself through college.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) were among the night's attendees.

Photo: (from left) Amber Riley, Patti LaBelle, Jordin Sparks, and Denyce Graves/Hyon Smith