Like many Black performers, Clifton Williams found God ? and music? at church. From gospel, jazz and classical arrangements to singing, Williams became a skilled musician early on after a church pianist introduced him to the instrument as a child.

Williams’ years of study have landed him at the forefront of a new era in his already bourgeoning career. He has been awarded the Berklee College of Music Presidential Scholarship, a grant established to bring the world’s most talented musicians to the Boston school with all tuition, housing and fees provided., Williams now joins seven other first-semester recipients from the U.S., Puerto Rico, Serbia and Palestine.

But the life-changing scholarship is more than a financial boon for Williams, who won the District of Columbia Public Schools’ Piano Competition in 2008 and the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award in 2009. The young musician said the award will also allow him to assist the community.

“I want to write and produce music for all types of singers, events and shows, and later on in life I want to teach and give back to my community,” Williams said in a statement. “Receiving this scholarship makes me do a self-evaluation. It motivates me to become a better musician so that I can live up to the accomplishments I have achieved so far.”

Williams’ accomplishments are lengthy, and include performances at NPR’s “From the Top Program,” the White House and the Kennedy Center. He’s also accompanied numerous local choirs, including the Friendship Public Charter School Choir, and sung in the D.C. Honors Chorus. At Berklee, Williams plans to dual major in contemporary writing and production and music education.

School President Roger Brown said the Presidential Scholarships were created to improve diversity at the famed music school. “It’s just a fact of life that musical talent isn’t distributed only to wealthy people,” said Brown in a statement. “As a private college, we’re very expensive for a family without a lot of income. If we want to continue to be the place where the finest contemporary musicians gather, we have to do some work to make sure it’s possible for them to get here, and be able to stay here.”?

Presidential Scholarships were first awarded to students attending in the fall of 2005, and more are presented annually.  There are currently 26 Presidential Scholars studying at Berklee. The college’s board of trustees believed so deeply in the initiative that it approved $1.5 million of the college’s endowment to fund the program.

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