Arts and Humanities People and Community

Frost student uses the power of music to connect and unite

Carlehr Swanson, a Frost School of Music master’s student and a Miss Florida contestant, uses her voice to bring awareness and joy to the Miami community.
Carlehr Swanson
Carlehr Swanson is a Frost School of Music master’s student and a Miss Florida contestant.

Carlehr Swanson doesn’t underestimate the power of music. During both the toughest and happiest moments in her life, she has used her talent of singing and playing the piano as a way to express herself and to make others happy. 

When Swanson was in the eighth grade, she would often visit her grandmother at a rehabilitation nursing home in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. 

“When I visited her, I would play the piano and I would sing for her,” said Swanson, a classically trained pianist who is now a second-year Frost School of Music master’s student in jazz vocal performance. “And I soon realized that the residents who didn't have regular visitors like my grandmother began to join in. From there, I started taking groups of my friends, and we would put on shows to brighten their mood.” 

From there Swanson was inspired to build Music Is Unity, a program dedicated to using music as an outlet for stress and challenging circumstances in life. Most recently, she performed virtually for seven seniors living in nursing homes around the nation to bring joy during the global pandemic. 

Since high school, Swanson has also participated in pageants. She was crowned Miss Fort Lauderdale in March 2020 and will have a chance to compete in the 2021 Miss Florida pageant. 

“I think being a part of pageants has allowed me to have an even bigger platform to raise awareness about important things that go on in the community,” Swanson said. “With my social impact initiative, Music Is Unity, I’m hosting a virtual roundtable for students who have questions about pursuing music as a major and profession.”

From proposing and creating the first gospel ensemble with approval from the jazz faculty last fall to becoming the Office of Civic and Community Engagement’s high school partnership coordinator, Swanson  spent her first year at the University of Miami as a highly involved student. 

“She leads the gospel ensemble with integrity and humility while sharing her experience and knowledge with other students,” said Kate Reid, director of jazz vocal performance and associate professor of studio music and jazz in the Frost School. . “We are very glad Carlehr is here at UM and Frost. She brings quite a bit to our community musically and personally.” 

Marisa Hightower, associate director of the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, said that as their newest graduate assistant, Swanson uses her background in teaching and mentoring to create better learning opportunities for people in underresourced areas throughout Miami-Dade County. 

“She's really ambitious, and she doesn't shy away from showing her passion, and she applies that same enthusiasm to all the work that's in our office,” Hightower said. “Though the program that she does is not related to her music program, it does offer her an opportunity to apply all those skills in that same manner, and she's just been doing an absolutely wonderful job.” 

Because of the current pandemic crisis, Swanson’s chance at competing for the Miss Florida title has been postponed. In the meantime, she said she will continue to use music as a way to unite the community. 

“I have so many plans for when I’m back on campus in the fall,” she said. “I’m looking forward to creating more initiatives with my organization, more gospel ensemble performance opportunities on campus, more committing to conferences, and also continuing my research about gospel music.”