Little Kids Rock Benefit: Steve Miller, Surprise Guest David Letterman, Darlene Love & More Perform

Steve Miller 2015
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Little Kids Rock

Steve Miller performs with students onstage during The 7th Annual Little Kids Rock Benefit at Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom on Oct. 20, 2015 in New York City. 

Graham Nash, Paul Shaffer and Pentatonix's Kirstin Maldonado also played the charity concert for the nonprofit.

"This is the United States, so you'll never see a football program get cut from a school," Graham Nash said Tuesday (Oct. 20) night at the annual Little Kids Rock Benefit in NYC's Manhattan Center.

Nash might be a Brit, and the statement might be a little cynical, but it's hard to argue with him. When schools feel the pain from tax cuts, music programs are the very first thing to go, even while football enjoys protection usually reserved for math and science.

Which is why a nonprofit organization like Little Kids Rock -- dedicated to revitalizing music education in public schools with a reach of 200,000 kids -- matters so much these days. And that's why last night's benefit concert attracted performers like Nash, Steve Miller, Pentatonix's Kirstin Maldonado (duetting with kids' a cappella group Sharkapella), Darlene Love, Paul Shaffer, Jake Clemons and special guest David Letterman to raise money for the nonprofit.

That was the night's mission, and when all the performances (from the aforementioned names as well as various kids' bands) and auctions were done, more than $1 million had been netted for Little Kids Rock. That will go toward additional instruments and programs in schools, as well as less tangible byproducts. Music education has been proven to encourage teamwork, empathy, confidence, spatial intelligence and language skills -- in fact, one of the night's young performers, a boy originally from the Dominican Republic, said Little Kids Rock helped his ESL skills immensely.

Speaking to Billboard before his performance, Steve Miller -- recently nominated for the next class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- emphasized music education's precarious state in public schools.

"We all know the situation," Miller tells Billboard. "We should never let arts be the first thing that gets cut." When I mention that instruments can prove costly for cash-strapped schools, he counters, "It's expensive to build a football field. A scoreboard costs more than the instruments cost for 10 years. The priorities are what they are -- there's room for all of it -- but this is a group of people that works hard to make sure music is available for young minds as they're growing and developing.

"This is actually a very, very successful program that's reaching a lot of kids -- 200,000 kids. That's a lot, and this [benefit] makes a dent. It's a real honor to be here, and a pleasure to see these kids excited about music, and see them feel like this is something they could do. It's not so much that they're going to be professionals, but they'll have music in their lives and it will give them options."

To that end, Miller played a three-song set and later returned for an impromptu jam session. When a guitar boasting signatures from the night's entertainers was being auctioned off, he grabbed it from the auctioneer and noodled away on some blues riffs to help increase the appeal of the item.

As for his set, he brought "Abracadabra," "The Joker" and "Fly Like an Eagle" to the crowd. His gently psychedelic "Eagle" was especially mesmerizing, a quality that honoree and performer Paul Shaffer (the year's Big Man Award recipient, named in honor of the late Clarence "Big Man" Clemons) recalled later in the night.

As for Shaffer, he brought out surprise guest David Letterman, who greeted the crowd with a big grin, a wild beard and the night's best quip, given in reference to his vaguely Amish facial hair: "I was told this was a barn raising."

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Deftly combining comedy with heartfelt stories of his friend, Letterman paid homage to Shaffer and presented him with a small gift. Technically, it was a re-gift -- Letterman gave Shaffer the very same mini harmonica Shaffer's parents presented him with on his third or fourth birthday.

Neither Letterman nor the harmonica stuck around for Shaffer's proper performance. Instead, he brought out longtime Late Show guest (and longtime LKR friend) Darlene Love to sing the 1982 dance classic "It's Raining Men," which Shaffer called "the only song I ever writ." After that, Love and Shaffer delivered a knockout version of "River Deep, Mountain High," a track co-written by her old boss Phil Spector.

It was funny that for a benefit called Little Kids Rock, the evening's standout performance would come from a 74-year-old. But it was fitting in a way -- proof positive that music is a gift that never leaves you throughout your life. And when it strikes someone who really gets it, the world benefits.

Head here for more information about Little Kids Rock.


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