On April 20th of this year, Amsale Aberra lost her battle with cancer at the age of 64, leaving behind her husband Clarence O'Neill Brown, who will be on hand to accept the award on his wife's behalf; and her daughter, singer-songwriter Rachel Brown, who is herself receiving a Visionary Lineage Award from the organization.
Before illness claimed her life, Amsale had turned a passion born out of necessity into a thriving business; first making a name for herself in the fashion world, with her minimalist, yet elegant wedding gown collection which she sold to Kleinfeld, and later creating the Amsale Group based in New York City with a salon on Madison Avenue.
A graduate of Boston State College, with a degree in political science, Amsale brought her love of design to New York and enrolled at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), earning a degree in fashion design. Her genius lay in an ability to turn understated designs into works of art. She was the true definition of "fashion-forward."
Her legacy continues under the guidance of her husband Clarence O'Neill Brown, CEO of the company, and her hand-picked successor, Margot Lafontaine, Vera Wang's former senior studio director. Amsale Aberra was highly regarded by her peers in the fashion industry for her inspiring, straightforward approach to design, and as her husband said, by all who knew her, "…for her infinite goodness."
The Harlem School of the Arts at the Herb Alpert Center for the Arts has established a partnership, made possible with support from the Anna-Maria and Stephen Keller Foundations, with one of Amsale's alma maters FIT, where she was a former trustee. Through this relationship FIT provides reduced and tuition-free Art & Design courses to high school students (ages 14-18), attending public school (visit FIT@HSA for more information)
Now in its seventh year, the Masquerade Ball has grown to become one of the signature events of the Fall season attended by VIPs, celebrities, and supported by individuals and the business community. Last year the initiative topped its previous accomplishments, bringing in a record 1.3 million dollars to assist the Harlem School of the Arts in maintaining and growing exposure, and access to the world-class arts training it currently provides to deserving young people. Most of these young creatives come from economically depressed backgrounds and from New York City Schools and partner organizations.
Each year, the event committee identifies extraordinary individuals to honor. These individuals meet the organization's high-level criteria - they represent the very best of the best, and their names are synonymous with excellence in their specific fields. Among last year's honorees were 9-time Grammy Award Winner and Academy Award Nominee, Mary J Blige (Mudbound), and Tony Award winner, Renee Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton). In previous years, honorees included Darren Walker, President, The Ford Foundation, legendary actress Cicely Tyson, multi-Platinum Award-winner, Alicia Keys, famed visual artist Kehinde Wiley, and Michael Feinstein, Ambassador of The Great American Songbook.