Seated in the midst of Western Pennsylvania's titans, 12-year-old Jackie Evancho awaited the moment she would be called to the podium.
The international singing star from Richland was one of five people honored Friday night as a history maker in Western Pennsylvania by the Senator John Heinz History Center.
History maker? At age 12?
Yup. And she was in very good company at the 20th Annual History Makers Award Dinner held at the Westin Convention Center Hotel in Pittsburgh.
Also honored as history makers were four Western Pennsylvania leaders—Ronald R. Davenport Sr., Judge D. Michael Fisher, Stephen R. Tritch and Floyd "Chip" Ganassi Jr.—whose life experiences spanned far more decades that Jackie has lived.
The awards honor outstanding men and women whose achievements, while rooted in Western Pennsylvania, transcend geographical boundaries. The $250-a-ticket black-tie affair raised $300,000 for the history center.
Jackie was named a history maker in arts and letters.
"Tonight we are delighted to honor you, Jackie Evancho, as our youngest ever history maker in arts and letters," said Robert Krizner, managing partner of KPMG's Pittsburgh Office, when he introduced her.
"Thank you for sharing your great talent with such humility and joy and for being a perfect ambassador for Western Pennsylvania," he said.
Jackie got a laugh when she took the podium and said: "Um, you know, since I’m 12 years old, I really don’t know what to say.”
With her effervescent smile, she continued her short acceptance speech, “It makes me really happy that everyone else believes in me and makes me feel special. I’d just like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my career.”
At a reception before the dinner, Jackie and the other award recipients mingled with guests.
As always, Jackie came across as a smiling, bubbly child with more poise than many adults possess.
She signed autographs throughout the evening.
“Few singers have stirred the souls of people worldwide so gently and also so sweetly as she has," Krizner said in his introduction, while photos and a video were projected on big screens in the room. "Western Pennsylvania really couldn’t be prouder."
He noted that since she appeared on America's Got Talent at the age of 10, her classical crossover style has won her international acclaim.
"You’ve appeared in London, Tokyo, New York and even privately for the prince and princess of Japan at the Imperial Palace," Krizner continued as the big screens showed her with President Obama, Oprah, Jay Leno, Muhammad Ali and others.
"In February you sang at the annual national prayer breakfast for President Obama who delivered the keynote address and (Jackie) performed a song that was actually written by her uncle," Krizner continued.
"You called on everyone to believe in a day when hunger and war will pass away. And after that performance, Vice President Biden said, 'Now I know how angels sound.'"
She's been called an angel and a superstar, said Krizner, noting that her first recording, O Holy Night, was the No. 1 best-selling debut album in 2010.
At the end of the evening, Heinz History Center President and Chief Executive Officer Andrew E. Masich said he knew Jackie had been working hard throughout the day, recording.
"You don't have to sing for us because it's past your bedtime," he said, to which the audience sighed a disappointed "awww."
"We'd like to sing you a song. You can join in if you want to ... but, let's sing, 'God Bless America.'"
The audience did. Jackie sang along. And that was the end of the program.
The night's other history makers are:
Ronald R. Davenport Sr. is the founder, chairman and CEO of Sheridan Broadcasting Corp. He "carved a path of achievement in education, law, business and community service. He contronted injustice with sharp legal and business acumen and gave African-Americans an important voice in broadcasting," according to the program
Judge D. Michael Fisher "was destined to a life of politics and public service," the the program states. Now a federal judge, Fisher was recognized as a history maker in government. Previously, he served in the Pennsylvania Legislature and as the commonwealth's attorney general.
Stephen R. Tritch traveled the world brokering business deals and played a key role in Westinghouse Electric Co.'s growth as a world powerhouse. The company's retired chairman and CEO was honored as a history maker in business and industry.
Floyd "Chip" Ganassi Jr. received the history maker in sports award. "A fixture in the auto racing industry for more than 25 years, he has won worldwide renown as one of the sport's most successful and innovative owners. A fierce competitor with a passion for winning, he is also known as a sharp businessman and industry leader."