Grammy in the Schools Live! Fundraiser Trumpets the Importance of Music Education, Showcases the Program's Talented Alumni

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NARAS
Haleigh Bowers performs during GRAMMY in the Schools Live! – A Celebration of Music & Education, presented by Ford Motor Company Fund at The Montalban Theater on February 07, 2019, in Los Angeles.

When Ray Parker Jr. was attending Northwestern High School in Detroit, it was the school’s music programs and the power of song that provided the inspiration for him to pursue his show-business dreams.

“If it wasn’t for music, I’d probably be a juvenile delinquent or I’d be working at an automobile plant,” says the 1971 graduate of the high school, located down the street from Motown and which also counts luminaries like Diana Ross as alumni. “You didn’t have many options other than those, so music is what got me out of the city.” 

As a result, Parker -- who’s perhaps best known for his ubiquitous 1984 theme for Ghostbusters -- was deeply affected when he heard the school slashed its budget and cut music programs out entirely. “In some communities, everyone wants to play football or whatever, but in ours, everyone wanted to play an instrument or sing; the person next door, the person upstairs, the guy down the street. So when I heard they canceled the music program, I thought, ‘What genius decided to do that?’ So it’s a cause I'm very sensitive to.”

It’s that sensitivity that brought Parker out to The Montalban in Los Angeles on Thursday night during what was the Grammy Museum's 10th annual Grammy in the Schools Live! event, a fundraising effort, outreach opportunity and signature part of the museum's calendar. “I used to be on the board," he notes. "I obviously love music, and you can’t inspire the kids enough.”

"It’s a night that’s a culmination of a lot of our education programs,” explained Michael Sticka, executive director of the Grammy Museum. “We have alumni from our Grammy Camp, summer sessions and our jazz program, and they’re all going to get onstage tonight and perform for high school music students.”

One of the night’s alumni performers, USC graduate and Grammy Camp alumna Haleigh Bowers, pointed to the importance of the organization and its efforts in her own life. “When I went to Grammy Camp the summer of my senior year in high school, it was a major transition point,” she says of the museum's musical boot camp for high school students. “I went from having this dream that maybe I could do music at some point if I followed it with enough passion to thinking that this can actually be a career path I could pursue. It showed me that it’s possible to have a career in music and that it’s a valid life path.”

Los Angeles native and USC sophomore Luca Mendoza echoed Bowers’ sentiments. “I think the biggest thing for me is the community that it brings together,” says Mendoza, an alumni of the Grammy Band Jazz Sessions, who is currently an active member of the burgeoning Los Angeles jazz scene. “It’s a national program, so when I was a part of the band, it was me and all of of these top-level kids in the country together in one place.” The band also gets the opportunity to perform at the official Grammy afterparty, among other Recording Academy events throughout the weekend. “It’s hard to get everyone together like this in general, but when I was a member, we played a bunch of shows and were together all the time. It was a great experience to get to know people I see all the time on the scene now.”

Another aspect of the weekend is honoring the year’s Music Educator award, which Sticka says is “probably the most prestigious award of its kind.” Given jointly by the Grammy Museum and the Recording Academy, this year’s honoree is Geoffrey Redding. A music teacher at West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Florida, Redding explained the importance of the honor. “Personally, it means so much, and while I’m thankful for the award, the attention really should go to what we can do together,” he explained. “It gives a greater platform to touching and changing lives, the power of music education, how you motivate and inspire and how you build bridges.”

Redding himself was inspired to pursue a career as an educator thanks to his mother. “She raised four boys in a single-parent home and was my first teacher, because she had the ability to create a motivating and inspiring environment regardless of the situation.” As a result of being this year’s Music Educator honoree, Redding is having a whirlwind weekend full of Recording Academy events, including the actual Grammy ceremony, where he’s set to get an on-air shout-out. “Oh yes, my students are very excited for me,” he pointed out. “They want me to get some autographs too.”

2019 Grammy Awards