J. Plunky Branch Honored as Virginia Commission for the Arts Celebrates 50th Anniversary

J. Plunky Branch Honored as Virginia Commission for the Arts Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Governor Ralph Northam Congratulates the Commission and the

“50 for 50 Arts Inspiration Award” Recipients

Saxophonist-producer J. Plunky Branch has received a prestigious 50 for 50 Arts Inspiration Award from the Virginia Commission for the Arts for excellence as an Outstanding Artist. The award was presented at the Commission’s 50th anniversary program in, January at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. More than 300 artists, arts leaders, and award recipients attended from Virginia and across the country.

“I am honored and humbled to be recognized for my music, my longevity and for my service to my community and the state of Virginia.  I am inspired to continue creating and look forward to producing more work,” Branch said.

The Commission awarded 50 awards in 5 categories to arts organizations and individuals who demonstrated artistic excellence and inspiration over the last 50 years. They were chosen from an original pool of over 350 nominees. In the the Outstanding Artist category winners have demonstrated consistent artistic excellence, a stellar body of work, provided service to their respective communities and beyond, and enhanced the artistic and cultural life of Virginia with their creativity.

Branch recently published his memoir, Plunky – Juju, Jazz, Funk & Oneness and he will release his 26th album “Love Makes Us Better” in June.

 Virginia Commission for the Arts Chair Shelley Kruger Weisberg (Williamsburg) commented: “We gathered together from across the Commonwealth to celebrate innovation, creativity, and artistic excellence. The event was a testament to the value of the arts in every aspect of our society”.

Commissioner Jo Hodgin (Annandale), Co-Chair of the 50th Anniversary Committee, expressed her belief in the power of the arts in Virginia: “The 50 for 50 Awardees remind us that when creativity meets good citizenship, our communities become stronger”. 

The legislation establishing the Commission was signed by Governor Mills Godwin on April 4, 1968.


The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Chu was the featured guest and commended Virginia on the abundant and diverse arts culture that has been established throughout the state for the past 50 years. She presented two special awards following her remarks: the Cultural Icon Award to the Virginia Museum of Fine arts and the Cultural Legacy Award to former VCA Executive Director Peggy Baggett. The Commission Board surprised Chairman Chu with a “National Inspiration” award for her tireless efforts to protect arts funding, increase awareness and promote connections for the arts and other sectors of society and the economy.

Keynote Speakers Adriana Trigiani and Nancy Bolmeier Fisher introduced the audience to their Appalachian cultural literacy program The Origin Project for which they received an Arts Inspiration Award in the Emerging Arts Organization category.

The program and reception included entertainment by VCA touring artists groups The Bobby Black Hat Band and the Robert Jospe Trio. Richmond Ballet’s student outreach group the Minds in Motion Ambassadors presented a stimulating and thought-provoking video about the impacts of their program abroad. They energized the audience with their hopeful, lively performances, encouraging those watching to “change the world”.

VMFA Director Alex Nyerges welcomed the attendees to a reception in the Museum’s Marble Hall following the program and introduced the featured guests, Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pam Northam. Governor Northam congratulated the Commission on its 50th anniversary and emphasized the essential role of artists and arts leaders for continuing to enrich the culture and vitality of Virginia.

Photo links are here:

GUIDE to categories including single awards presentations and group shots:

Outstanding Artists at jpeg 160.