Grammy Music Education Coalition Reveals Plans to Expand Music Education in Public Schools

Berklee president Roger H. Brown, Neil Portnow amd Larry Simpson, Berklee’s senior vice president for academic affairs/provost.
David Green

Berklee president Roger H. Brown, Neil Portnow and Larry Simpson, Berklee’s senior vice president for academic affairs/provost.

With the goal of boosting the number of youth creating, playing and performing music in U.S. public schools, the Grammy Music Education Coalition (GMEC) announces its launch today (Nov. 7). The nonprofit collective is comprised of more than 30 of the nation’s most forward-thinking music education organizations, including the National Association for Music Education, the NAMM Foundation (National Association of Music Merchants), VH1 Save the Music Foundation and Lang Lang International Music Foundation.

In announcing GMEC and what he calls the “first-of-its-kind” approach, Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow tells Billboard that the concept was sparked by a what-if. “The big dream was what if every young person had the opportunity to be involved with music through the public school system,” he explains. “And what if we were able to pool our energy, efforts and resources with others in the music industry who are also doing fine work in music education to attack this big dream? The partnerships we are creating with school districts, teachers, parents and youth are designed to drive systemic change across geographies and communities nationwide.”

Focusing particular emphasis on underserved communities, GMEC will initially roll out in three school districts: Nashville (Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools’ Music Makes Us), New York City (New York City Department of Education) and Philadelphia (The School District of Philadelphia). GMEC will provide customized funding and strategic services based on school system needs assessments. The end result is to create an infrastructure through which school districts will be able to implement robust music education programs that will be independently sustainable. To date, more than $2.5 million has been raised by The Walker Family Foundation, ELMA Philanthropies and the GMEC board. GMEC plans to expand its partnerships to include additional school districts, artists, corporations, non-profit organizations and foundations.

“The benefits of music education extend far beyond the classroom,” says GMEC executive director Dr. Lee Whitmore in a release outlining the coalition’s launch. “By increasing the number of students actively making music, we’re fostering the development of essential cognitive and social skills that better prepare them for success as well as beginning a lifelong appreciation of music.”

Among its first moves in bringing learning content to teachers and students, GMEC has partnered with Disney*Pixar’s Coco. Coming to theaters on Nov. 22, the film centers on 12-year-old lead character Miguel, a self-taught guitarist who dreams of being a great musician. Supported by the Walt Disney Studios, GMEC is collaborating with Berklee College of Music to soon provide new educational materials within Berklee Pulse, the school’s online music education resource. Disney*Pixar’s Coco team will also donate 300 Cordoba guitars to GMEC’s inaugural school system partners. And Guitar Center will donate an additional 300 Cordoba guitars. The 600 instruments will be delivered before the end of the year.

Courtesy of Disney Pixar
A scene from the film Coco.

Coco features traditional Mexican music and original songs including “Remember Me,” written by Academy Award-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and “Un Poco Loco,” written by Adrian Molina and Germaine Franco. “Coco is rooted in music,” says Molina, the film’s co-director and screenwriter as well. “We believe in GMEC and its mission and are honored to work with this organization.”

GMEC’s board members include chair Tarik Ward, director of music programs for ELMA Philanthropies Services (U.S.) Inc.; treasurer Jeffrey C. Walker of the Walker Family Foundation; Recording Academy & MusiCares president/CEO Neil Portnow; Berklee College of Music president Roger H. Brown; Rusty Rueff of the Patti and Rusty Rueff Foundation; Shout! Factory CEO Richard Foos and Bohemian Foundation executive director Cheryl Zimlich. For more information about GMEC, please visit