How Charlotte’s Web got its name

By Lani Richardson

To sing is to love. Communication in song. Laughter is meaningful. A smile is a paragraph of good things.” —  from a poem by Charlotte Powers, the artist and sister whose too-short-life inspired the name, Charlotte’s Web, in Rockford.

During the lead-up and follow-up to Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts’ 40th Anniversary Celebration June 2, the question invariably was asked (and often), “So, how did Charlotte’s Web get its name?” The question that remains with me is, how in-depth need I go?

The story of how Charlotte’s Web got its name, in a nutshell: Charlotte’s Web was named after co-founder Stephen Powers’ younger sister, Charlotte Powers, who was killed by a drunk driver on her way to star in the spring musical at Rockford Boylan Catholic High School.

To continue with a little depth …

At the time, the area’s arts community was supportive and strong, and Boylan was a definite hotspot of talent under the amazing direction of Ted Bacino. All from the arts community felt quite confident in Bacino’s mentorship, so they enthusiastically supported his productions. The arts community and leaders were present in the audience when he stepped onto the stage that fateful night to announce the cancellation of the show as a result of a tragic traffic accident.

From stories I’ve been told, I’ve gathered that there was a collective gasp and grasp of hearts when the announcement was made. Everyone felt something — like a vital spark had been snuffed out and must not be forgotten.

At this same time, though, I’m fuzzy about the exact chronology (I was 3 at the time). The building that would house the original Charlotte’s Web at 728 First Ave. was already undergoing remodeling, and the idea was moving along. It became quite obvious to everyone involved that the folk music club/school would be named in honor of this spark: Charlotte Powers.

And then, of course, there is E.B. White’s classic tale, Charlotte’s Web, whose moral, in simplistic terms, is: we can all get along through song, regardless of differences.

The rest, I think is history. There is a whole lot more to Charlotte’s story, but I didn’t actually have the pleasure of knowing her personally. I can only thank her every day for her contribution to the beauty that is my life and honor her extreme sacrifice by carrying forward, to the best of my ability, her spark — her joy.

Thank you for asking this question. Now, it is written. And whenever I re-tell the story, bittersweet tears of joy fill me as I think of the one life, the one so very important life that was taken: hers was not taken in vain, for so many more lives have been enriched to honor her spark.

With infinite gratitude, Lani

Peace through music.

Lani Richardson is executive director of Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts.

From the July 4-10, 2012, issue

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