The normally loquacious Leo Sarkisian, creator and former co-host of VOA’s Music Time in Africa, stood nearly speechless before a packed room of VOA colleagues, friends and fans, during a heartfelt ceremony dedicating Voice of America’s Studio 23 in his name.
“I’m at a loss for words, Mary,” Leo said to his wife and constant companion of 65 years, sitting in the front row at the January 23rd ceremony. Typically, he explained to the adoring crowd, Mary has to politely signal to him to wrap things up.
BBG Chairman Jeffrey Shell thanked the beaming 93-year-old Sarkisian for his decades of service, presenting him with a plaque of the Resolution the Board passed when he retired in 2012.
VOA Director David Ensor recognized Sarkisian’s extraordinary career and bestowed him with a replica of the studio dedication plaque that now adorns Studio 23.
“We chose Studio 23 in part because it is used for many of our English broadcasts to Africa, but also because it has the added benefit of being a part of the VOA studio tours,” Ensor said. “From now on, everyone who visits VOA will pass by the Leo Sarkisian Studio and learn a bit about his legacy.”
In addition to co-hosting the show he created in 1965, the now-retired Sarkisian spent his life traveling to nearly every country in Africa, amassing a world-class collection of music, which is now stored in the VOA Leo Sarkisian Library of African Music.
“Music Time in Africa is one of the programs that truly make VOA unique,” said English-to-Africa Service Chief Sonya Laurence Green. “The legacy that Leo has left here is immense.”
Since 2012, when Sarkisian retired for a second time at age 91, that legacy has been carried forward by Heather Maxwell, whom he helped recruit and hire.
During the studio dedication ceremony, Maxwell described the first time she met Sarkisian, back in 1997 at an ethnomusicologist conference. She barely got a “hello” in before being pushed aside by others eager for a bit of face time with him.
“Here I am now, 15 years or so later, with this incredible honor, this wonderful job of hosting Music Time in Africa,” Maxwell said.
The scene following Thursday’s studio dedication ceremony wasn’t much different from that conference in 1997, as the younger generation of VOA broadcasters lined up for photos with the music man, pens in hand in hopes of having him autograph their copy of the ceremony’s program.
“I broadcast from Studio 23 every day,” said VOA radio broadcaster Jim Stevenson, who first worked with Sarkisian as a producer in the Africa Division more than 20 years ago. “It’s a very personal honor to be in ‘his’ studio, and I’m glad VOA has recognized him in this way.”
Watch “The Living Legend,” a VOA mini-documentary on Leo’s storied career: