Ifetayo Ali learned to play the violin at so young an age that it might be said to be her first language. By four, she was well-enough versed in music that she decided the cello suited her better, even though even a half-sized instrument was larger than she was.
The young African-American prodigy studied with many of the luminaries of musical education, beginning with her mother Lucinda Ali Landing, as well as Hans Jørgen Jensen and Martine Benmann, of the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute.
By six, she was a viral sweetheart on YouTube among cello fans. In a video from the 2008 Chicago Music Association Recital, she can be seen performing in white tights, a blue dress, and Mary Jane shoes. She plays with all the deliberate care of a performer ten times her age with the intent, bright-eyed focus of a child at her favorite game. She followed that small fame with recognition from several competitions for young musicians throughout the country.
This year, Ifetayo is fourteen. She is also the winner of the Junior Division First Place Laureate Prize in the 2017 Annual Sphinx Competition. She took the prize with an enticing performance of Lalo’s Concerto in D Minor accompanied by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra.
The Sphinx Competition is a 20-year-old institution in Detroit, Michigan. It’s open to all Black and Latino students from seventh grade into college, recognizing talent in a pool usually minimized in an effort to encourage artistic pursuit in those communities.
In 2016, Ifetayo competed at Sphinx and took home the silver medal. She came back to win, and her well-honed drive carried her to her goal. The victory comes with a ten thousand dollar prize and performing appearances with several major orchestras, as well as a featured interview on “From the Top,” a nation-wide music program. She will cast a wide net of influence for children not much younger than her, an icon of artistic success.