Just in time for the new school year, Levi’s announced the debut of Levi’s Music Project, a program that enlists artists to launch music-education efforts in their hometowns. For its inaugural run, the denim brand has paired with Alicia Keys to institute a Music x Technology curriculum at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, where a young friend of hers is a student (Keys herself attended the Professional Performing Arts School in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, where she grew up).
“It’s in a tough neighborhood, but it’s this beautiful beacon of light for the kids who go to it,” says Keys of the Brooklyn high school. The singer-philanthropist, 35, knows firsthand the power of music education in school. “I’ve studied piano since I was seven years old and that’s a game changer for me, 100 percent. The fact that I know how to write, create and produce my own music means I don’t ever have to wait for anyone to express myself.”
Levi’s and Keys first partnered on the 2015 launch of the brand’s redesigned women’s line, and found a shared interest in telling dynamic stories (“what builds us, what breaks us, what makes us start again,” in Keys’ words) and giving back. For Keys — who co-founded Keep a Child Alive, which provides support to HIV and AIDS patients in Africa — creating a music program focused on technology was vital to giving youth greater access to realize their creative dreams. “It felt like such an incredible opportunity to help students really go to the next level of creating with state of the art facilities — with a media lab, isolated recording booths and mobile recording carts, audio/visual production, engineering, post-production, mastering, songwriting and all of the things that go into making visuals and music.”
With a three-year commitment, Levi’s funded the classroom build-out, the salary for the teacher and secured partnerships for equipment. Levi’s also tapped artists Vince Staples and SZA to create similar programs (in Long Beach, California and Camden, New Jersey, respectively), and the brand introduced a similar partnership with Nigerian-born, U.K.-based rapper Skepta on Sept. 6. People can support the cause with the purchase of $5 pins in the shape of a tiny cassette.
To celebrate the launch of the program, Keys surprised the Murrow students with a collaborative performance and workshop, captured in the video premiering above. “They performed, and I performed with them. They showed me their style. We were able to do more intimate things and chill in a room together in the actual lab and explore what was happening there,” says Keys. “The excitement for learning, and for the potential and possibility, is the best thing ever. I don’t think there’s anything more important than loving to learn and the passion that you can have for learning, which happens forever — whether in school or outside of school.”