How the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation Gives Back

Foundation supporter Miguel Bose (center) met with music students in  Panama during a Latin Grammy in the Schools event in 2016.
Ramon Lepage

Foundation supporter Miguel Bose (center) met with music students in  Panama during a Latin Grammy in the Schools event in 2016.

Esmirna Ortiz was in a bind. After a year of double majoring in jazz piano and musical production and engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the student’s funds had dried up.

“I thought it was my last year at Berklee,” says the young musician, a native of the Dominican Republic.

Then one of her teachers back home sent her a link to a scholarship competition funded by the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation. Thanks to a video audition during which she performed her own compositions, Ortiz won a $10,000 tuition assistance scholarship. After receiving the scholarship for two more years, she’ll graduate from Berklee in spring 2018.

“It was hard for me to conceive that there existed such a prestigious foundation willing to help people like me,” says Ortiz. “And truthfully, through the Latin Grammys I’ve had opportunities I never dreamed of.”

Beyond receiving tuition assistance, Ortiz has worked on The Latin Recording Academy’s Person of the Year gala in Las Vegas, spoken at events staged by the Latin Grammy in the Schools program and is even working as a studio engineer for foundation projects. When The Latin Recording Academy launched its foundation in 2014, it took a very different path from that of MusiCares, the charity created by The Recording Academy, whose primary mission is to provide critical assistance to musicians in times of need and does not offer educational scholarships.

“Our goal is to motivate and stimulate,” says Manolo Díaz, senior VP of the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation. “We want to increase interest and international appreciation for Latin music and its creators through our scholarships, our underwriting of different investigative projects to preserve Latin music genres and our educational programs.”

In just three years, says Díaz, the foundation has awarded over $2.5 million in scholarships to more than 110 students. These include a “Prodigy” scholarship funded annually by a major music star (Miguel Bosé, Juan Luis Guerra and Enrique Iglesias have contributed) that provides up to $200,000 for four-year studies for a student at Berklee.

Students from anywhere in the world may apply, and those who attend Berklee can study in Boston, the school’s international campus in Valencia, Spain, or its soon-to-open New York facility. The pool of students is growing so quickly, says Díaz, that the foundation’s top priority is raising more funds.

“I don’t know if we’re helping the future Juan Luis Guerras or Plácido Domingos, but we’re creating extraordinary [musicians and] music teachers who will have huge impact on the future quality and competitiveness of Latin music,” says Díaz.

For Ortiz, who plans to begin working in the United States in 2017 as an engineer while developing her own voice as an artist, just having been able to step outside the confines of her native country was transformative.

“It has completely changed my understanding of the music business,” she says, “and has made me more conscious of the emotional effect our music has on people.”    

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 14 issue of Billboard. 


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