This weekend, some of Vashon’s most notable musicians will come together on the stage of Vashon High School Theater to raise money for a worthy cause, the Paul Colwell Music Scholarship — and pay tribute to a remarkable islander whose name the scholarship bears.
The concert will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at Vashon High School Theater, with a bill that reads like a who’s who of the Vashon music scene — Mark Graham and Orville Johnson, Susan Lewis, Chris Andersen, Kat Eggleston, Camille Reeves, Steve Amsden, Mark Wells, Carter Castle, Rick Doussett, Jennifer Stills, David Hawkins, Kate Atwell, Mindy Little and Chuck Roehm.
But that list wouldn’t be complete without two even more acclaimed music makers — Paul and Steve Colwell will also take the stage.
Paul and Steve, along with their brother Ralph, first performed together as a bluegrass and country music trio during their childhoods, and by the early 1950s, the Colwell Brothers were rising stars, with a Columbia Records deal.
Their trajectory changed, though, when they were invited to travel to Switzerland to attend a convention of Moral Re-Armament (MRA), an international organization focused on reconciliation.
The brothers wound up traveling for the next 13 years for MRA, forging a lifelong music collaboration with Herbie Allen, another musical prodigy who shared their optimism that music could help mend the world.
During their years with MRA, the Colwell brothers and Allen ended up writing and singing songs in 42 different languages and performing for the King of the Maori people in New Zealand, the prime ministers of Japan, Thailand and Burma and feuding factions in a recently liberated Congo, where they spent a year.
In the 1960s, the brothers, along with Allen, began to create productions for “Up With People,” a troupe of young performers and recording artists who also traveled the world spreading a message of peace, positivity and hope for the future.
Paul stayed with the organization for years, shepherding it from a traveling show into an international youth organization that focuses on intercultural communication.
Then, 20 years ago, when Paul had reached what some might call retirement age, he moved to Vashon with his wife, Catalina Quinn, the daughter of actor Anthony Quinn, who had also been a member of the MRA delegation.
That’s when Paul launched a second career, as a beloved para-educator in Vashon schools, working with special needs students in the classroom and helping others in the Learning Resource Center with academic programs.
In 2021, Paul retired from that career, at the age of 86 — and told The Beachcomber how he had approached his work in education.
“… Curriculum is one thing, but the important thing is how you treat people; how you work as a team, how you get along with people,” he said. “That’s what I aspired to do all these years.”
A lifelong advocate for youth, Colwell can still be spotted attending high school games, performances and other events at Vashon High School.
He remembers his former students, and sometimes stuns their parents by asking about their kids by name, long after they have grown up and moved away from the island. Of course, Paul also remains an expert musician with hundreds of folk, country and spiritual songs in his repertoire, who plays his mandolin whenever possible with various Vashon choirs and groups.
And once again, on Sunday, he’ll raise his voice — along with a host of his island musician friends — to do something to make a positive difference in the lives of young people.
A suggested donation of $10, at the door, is suggested for the concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at Vashon High School Theater. Donations for the Paul Colwell Music Scholarship can also be made online, at vashonscholorshipfoundation.org. On the website, please note in the comment or memo box that the donation should go to the Paul Colwell Music Scholarship.