The YWCA’s dance party returns

The sixth annual Black & White Gala is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the YWCA of Asheville. “First and foremost, the Gala is a dance party,” says Ami Worthen, the YWCA’s marketing director. “People are there to have fun and to dance with all kinds of people who they might not normally be on the dance floor with. It really brings people together.” Festive black-and-white attire is encouraged, and proceeds from the evening dinner-and-dance party benefit the YWCA’s mission to “eliminate racism and empower women.”

This will be the third year that local band Westsound will perform at the Gala. “We keep asking them back because they get everybody moving and smiling,” Worthen says.

Performing a variety of Motown, blues, R&B and hits from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the band takes pride in its ability to bring people together through music. “It’s an all-inclusive event, and fun is the main ingredient,” says Regina Duke, the band’s lead singer.

“People start to sing along [with us],” Duke says. “There are so many diverse people coming together, and [our] music has a way of connecting people. It creates good energy for everyone.” Specializing in high-energy cover songs, Westsound’s music promises to resonate with people of all backgrounds, ages and races, making them an ideal act for the annual Gala. 

“When they’re ready, we’re ready,” adds keyboardist Randy Weston of the audience. Randy founded the band along with his two brothers, Oscar and Cecil Weston. “And,” Randy adds, “when they’re not ready, we’re still ready!”

Always clad in his signature dark-blue shades, Oscar performs on a wireless electric guitar, roaming through the venue and interacting with the audience. He encourages people to get up and dance. “I got to move,” says Oscar, laughing. “I can’t stand still; I’m a jumping bean.”

Duke considers herself an adopted sister to the Weston brothers. She’s been playing in the band for nine years. “We really put our personalities out there,” she says.

Local businesses have stepped forward to support the YWCA by donating items to the Gala’s silent auction, which features a variety of local artwork and gift certificates. With 11 local eateries donating significant amounts of food for the occasion, the buffet-style meal guarantees to offer an abundance of sweet-and-savory delights. Participating restaurants include Bouchon French Bistro, Carrabbas, Fiore’s Ristorante Toscana, Frankie Bones, 12 Bones Smokehouse, Westville Pub, Flying Frog Café, Corner Kitchen, Laurey’s Catering and To-Go, West End Bakery and the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. As for drinks: Pisgah Brewing will supply the beer and Biltmore Estate Wine Company will donate locally grown and crafted wines for the evening festivities.

Last year’s Gala raised $30,000 for the YWCA and its community-service programs. The YWCA provides programs including affordable childcare for babies and preschool children of working parents; a Diabetes Wellness and Prevention Program, which focuses on maintaining the disease through exercise; a Health Outreach Program that conducts diabetes, breast cancer and heart disease screenings; MotherLove, an adolescent pregnancy-prevention program; New Choices, an economic empowerment program for women; and a free after-school program for middle- and high-school students (part of a gang and dropout prevention program).

“People’s lives are transformed by our programs,” Worthen says. “The word ‘empowerment’ in our mission is really an important word for how we approach our services: We want to empower people to make the most of out of their lives. Whether they need affordable childcare or access to computers to [create] a resume, we’re about lifting people up.”

It’s also about celebrating diversity, Worthen says. “The beautiful thing about the YWCA is that it is a community center in the true sense of the word: I love it everyday when I come [to the YW] and see people of different ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Here is a video of Westsound performing at last year’s Gala, courtesy of the YWCA:

— Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 114, or at

who: The YWCA of Asheville’s sixth annual Black & White Gala.
what: A dinner-and-dance party, featuring food, beverages and music from Westsound.
where: Crowne Plaza Resort’s Expo Center, 1 Resort Drive.
when: Thursday, Sept. 30, starting at 6:30 p.m. ($50. YWCA members receive a 50 percent discount).

About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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