Back in high school in Staten Island, N.Y., a talented but less assured Bebe Rexha entered a contest sponsored by the Recording Academy. The trajectory after she won helped launch her career, and last night (Jan. 23) she paid it forward on the stage of this year’s Grammy in the Schools Live! event.
“I wanted to be in the industry badly, but I didn’t know if it was the right move for me,” Rexha told Billboard. “One day, my choir instructor said there was a contest being held by the national recording academy, so I submitted a song with a girl group I had in high school, and we ended up winning. We got to meet Chris Brown and so many people in the industry who helped me. That contest gave me a purpose, so to bring it full circle, I think it’s really important to give back.”
Rexha kicked off the event at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre with a performance of “Meant To Be,” and shouted out the audience of primarily students from the L.A. Unified School District. “If you love music, there’s room enough for everyone in this room,” she said, adding, “I just want to let you know that you can… I don’t know whether I’m allowed to say this but you can do whatever the f–k you want.” Cue applause.
Also doling out sage advice was 2020 Music Educator of the year, band teacher Mickey Smith Jr. of Maplewood Middle School in Sulphur, L.A. “There’s no overnight success, only over life success,” said Smith, who receives a $10,000 honorarium, matching grants for his school. He encouraged audience members to find their own personal sound and follow it.
The lion’s share of the 11th annual gathering featured ensemble performances by recent alumni of Grammy music education programs, who demonstrated considerable chops covering songs by Fun., Halsey, the Jonas Brothers, Alanis Morissette and more.
Grammy in the Schools comprises in-school programs, Grammy Camp and Grammy Career Day. Since it was established in 2008, more than 300,000 students have participated in affiliated programs and the $5.5 million in grants, including $2.6 million to more than 1,000 schools in all 50 states.
“Every child should have access to music and arts education — it’s really that simple,” Grammy Museum president Michael Sticka told Billboard. “Solving that problem obviously is vey challenging. The Grammy Museum does as much as we can by providing curriculum and [programs]. We’re proud of that, but it’s not enough. I went to a small school in rural Ohio and we had a full-time music teacher. Somehow they figured it out… it’s possible.”
Rexha, who’s passionate about mentorship for young people and women in the industry, is taking her skills down a new avenue this season as a mentor with Blake Shelton on NBC’s The Voice during the upcoming battle rounds.
“It was really fun. I can’t wait to see how it all ends up,” she says. “It was awesome because I did the comeback stage last year, and that was the first step. Now to graduate to mentorships… maybe one day I’ll be a judge on the show. I’m planting a seed.”