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Cleveland Orchestra legend to retire after more than 50 years

After 54 years, Joela Jones will play her last concerto with the Orchestra on Sunday.

CLEVELAND — It's been a big week for the Cleveland Orchestra. 

On Thursday, the orchestra's musicians returned to Severance Music Center for the first in-person concert since the pandemic. The performance held even more meaning as the group honored one of their own, one of the most respected classical pianists in the world, Joela Jones.

Jones is set to retire from the Orchestra this week, after playing for 54 years.  

Back in 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, "The Andy Griffith Show" was the top rated show on television, the Beatles were writing the "Blue Album," and Joela Jones was joining the Cleveland Orchestra as principal keyboardist. 

A child prodigy, Jones performed concerto solos with many orchestras as a teenager – including here in Cleveland. Then a meeting with former music director George Szell would change the course of her life. 

"George Szell had me play a concerto with him and it was at that point that he asked me if I would like to be a member of his orchestra," Jones explained. 

Little did she know, she'd stay for more than half a century.

Over the years, Jones has played more than 250 piano concertos. She's mastered the organ and the harp, and she also accompanied the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. 

Through it all, she says, the orchestra has been her family.

"But the wonderful thing about playing from within the orchestra is you are a part of something much more, you are part of a team," she told 3News. " It's wonderful. That's why I have grown up in this orchestra thinking of all the members really sort of as my family."

While Jones is no longer going to be performing, she says she's looking forward to continuing to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Cleveland State University and looking forward to hitting the speedway.

"I love driving my Porsche on the raceway and I'm looking forward to having more time to do that."

Thursday night, Jones was honored with the Board of Trustees Distinguished Service Award. Her career, distinguished, indeed. 

"Once you've been in the Cleveland orchestra nothing else is good enough," she said with a laugh. 

Jones will play her last concerto with the Orchesta on Sunday. 

*Editor's Note: The video in the player above is from a previous report.