In 1979, Jim and John D’Addario Jr. — two members of the namesake Farmingdale, N.Y.-based stringed-instrument manufacturing company — established the D’Addario Foundation with Jim’s wife, Janet, as a music showcase for classical guitarists who were struggling to make a living. Forty years later, D’Addario is still a family business — but now it’s helping musicians of all stripes, with a focus on the next generation.
“It’s not your traditional gala,” says Suzanne D’Addario Brouder, the foundation’s executive director. The event at Los Angeles’ Palace Theater will provide money to over 200 music education nonprofits in 40 states.
As the Trump administration proposes yearly budgets that would slash public funding for the arts, Brouder says the foundation is even more focused on expanding access to music education, especially in cities and towns where families aren’t able to afford instruments or music lessons.
“We’re trying to find places where music education is missing, and a lot of that happens in disadvantaged areas,” she says. “Those are the areas that are hardest hit by the cuts in music and education. The places where kids couldn’t imagine ever owning an instrument.”
One of the foundation-supported nonprofits is New York-based Harmony Program, an organization that has provided over 350,000 hours of free after-school music instruction during the last decade to kids ages 7-18. And in cities where the high school graduation rate is roughly 50%, students who participate in programs supported by the foundation are graduating at a 95% clip, according to the nonprofit watchdog GuideStar.
“We have a really personal, hands-on approach to what we do — we’ve seen kids who started out in third grade and now are graduating high school,” she says. “It’s like, ‘What else can we do to help?'”
This year, the foundation launched a new college scholarship fund and gave out 10 financial-aid scholarships to students from D’Addario Foundation-supported programs. The new initiative will provide financial assistance for four years to kids who can’t afford tuition and supplies on their own. This year, seven of those recipients are the first in their families to attend college, with scholarship winners set to attend places like Berklee, Villanova and Florida State.
D’Addario’s nonprofit is also taking steps to reduce the music industry’s environmental imprint. In January 2016, it launched the Playback recycling program for used guitar and orchestral strings, which can’t be processed by typical recycling centers. In three years, the Playback program has recycled over 4 million strings with the help of acts like U2 and the Dave Matthews Band and major festivals like South by Southwest and Newport Folk Fest, which recently placed string recycling boxes backstage for performers.
“Playback asks the question: What other steps can we adopt in our day-to-day lives to cut down on wasting resources?” says My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel, who has used D’Addario products since 1995. “The cumulative effect of lots of small steps can make a difference.”