UPTOWN — A tuition-free children’s music school in Uptown is putting on its first virtual fundraiser, and it’s getting a hand from star-studded acts.
The People’s Music School will host a virtual edition of its Big Night gala on March 19. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for the organization, which provides free music lessons to 850 Chicago kids. It will be headlined by four-time Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding and New Orleans band The Soul Rebels.
Last year’s edition of the gala was held in late February and was one of the last big in-person events held before Illinois’ stay at home order. This year’s gala will take place virtually, which has helped The People’s Music School book big-name acts for the event.
Spalding and The Soul Rebels will play live sets during the gala. A silent auction is also offering private concerts from Ben Folds, Indigo Girls and Sam Harris of X Ambassadors.
“We’re doing a compilation of performances featuring our students, because they’re always the centerpiece of these events,” said Erica Sun, marketing manager for The People’s Music School. “But we also have some star-studded talent. It’s really exciting.”
The People’s Music School was founded in 1976 by Rita Simó, a Juilliard-trained pianist who sought to provide music lessons to children. The school has been centered in Uptown ever since, and it recently started a second program in East Palo Alto, California.
The school has held its Big Night gala for three years. It accounts for about 25 percent of all revenue that comes in and is the “single most financially important event of the year” for the non-profit music school, Director of Development Kemper Florin said.
Hosting a virtual event posed challenges, but it also allowed the school to seek bigger names and non-local musical acts. The format also means people can participate from across the globe, allowing for a bigger audience, Florin said.
“We’re not confined by geography,” she said. “We’re really excited to expand our reach, because we think what we’re doing is really important.”
Previous gala events have allowed kids enrolled in the music school to jam with professional musicians. That’s not possible this year, but the school has thought of something that may be just as impactful.
After Spalding closes the event, she will stick around and host a virtual conversation with some of the school’s students, Florin said. The talk will give the students the chance to be encouraged by a celebrated musician.
“It’s an opportunity for our students to see someone who will inspire dreams in them,” Florin said.
For more information on the Big Night Gala, click here.
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