Flamingle: Gifted Guild
These creators of symphonies, sculptures, theatrical performances, country tunes and culinary delights are at the top of Florida’s artistic class.
Denée Benton, 25, got her start in show business singing in her church choir and middle school auditorium. On a trip to New York in the seventh grade, she saw a Broadway performance of Wicked and resolved to return to the city one day as a stage actress. A Winter Park native, Benton landed her first major acting role in The Book of Mormon’s national tour in 2014. And in 2016, the young Benton gave a standout performance as the lead role in the Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, for which she earned a 2017 Tony nomination for best leading actress in a musical.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Renowned composer Ellen Zwilich, 78, developed a love for music as a child in Miami. Her orchestral compositions caught the public’s ear when composer Pierre Boulez conducted her Symposium for Orchestra with the Julliard Symphony Orchestra, earning her a slew of high-profile commissions. Zwilich’s most famous works include her “Concerto Grosso 1985” and her Symphony No. 1 (Three Movements for Orchestra), which won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for music. She was the first woman to achieve the distinction. In 2000, Zwilich joined the faculty of the FSU College of Music, where she continues to teach and write music.
Brian Kelley, 31, who was raised on baseball and music in Ormond Beach, is the “Florida” in the country duo Florida Georgia Line. Kelley, half of the equation behind hit songs like “H.O.L.Y.,” which won this year’s Billboard Music Award for top country song, now lives in Nashville. But he makes a point of staying close to his roots and is occasionally spotted in his hometown—where his dad, Ed, was the mayor and a city commissioner—soaking up the Florida sunshine, giving to the local police force and humane society, and performing, as he and the band did last year at the Daytona 500’s prerace show.
William Cordova, 46, embodies Miami’s rich cultural milieu, both in person and in art. Born in Lima, Peru, in 1971, Cordova moved to Miami at an early age. He spent much of his youth there and today lives in the city part-time. Since earning his MFA from Yale in 2004, Cordova has produced an impressive array of sculptures, installations and collages that explore iconic objects of Peruvian and American culture. Cordova’s work can be found in the collections of museums ranging from the Guggenheim to Miami’s Pérez Art Museum. He was the winner of this year’s Orlando Museum of Arts Florida Prize in Contemporary Art.
Known to most Miami locals as Zak the Baker Zak Stern, 31, was once an unlikely candidate for culinary greatness. Raised in a secular Jewish household, Zak dropped out of pharmacy school and later developed an interest in food. He toured the European and Israeli countrysides, where he learned the culinary and spiritual secrets of the Old World and developed a passion for bread. After returning stateside, he opened his now-acclaimed bakery—which boasts two Wynwood locations—out of a friend’s garage in Miami, and, in 2017, he was named a James Beard semifinalist for his savory loaves.