Better Makers: Grammy Winner Esperanza Spalding Performs During Gala for The People’s Music School

In an hourlong virtual gala, The People’s Music School raised money to support free music education for nearly 1,600 children from underserved communities and also celebrated the school’s successful shift to virtual instruction during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The March 19 event raised $550,000 and served as a celebration for supporters, artists and community leaders to honor the school’s 45 years of social impact and musical excellence, event coordinators said.

Esperanza Spalding

Four-time Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding, a celebrated bassist, vocalist, composer, bandleader, educator and model, performed along with New Orleans brass ensemble The Soul Rebels.

Spalding, touted as “21st century’s jazz genius,” said she particularly loves “improvisation-based music styles emerging from Black American culture.” 

She is a role model for young students of music. Her original compositions and virtuosic live performances have captivated audiences worldwide since her 2011 Grammy Award for “Best New Artist.” Spalding was the first jazz musician to receive the award. Most recently, her 2018 album “12 Spells” was awarded the Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.”

“‘Music is a gift, pass it on,’ is the mission our trailblazing founder Dr. Rita Simó imprinted on us,” said Jennifer Kim-Matsuzawa, TPMS president and artistic director. “We deeply mourn her passing in 2020, but this March 19 we celebrated that mission and her inimitable spirit. The People’s Music School community now proudly extends from Chicago to California and our supporters reach across the globe. We were honored to come together as such magnificent artists shared their gifts with our students.”

Rita Simo
Dr. Rita Simó

The People’s Music School, the only tuition-free music school of its kind in the country, delivers music education through four Chicago sites (Uptown, Albany Park, Back of the Yards, and Greater South Side) and via its new pilot program in East Palo Alto, California. 

TPMS helps children from systemically under-resourced neighborhoods develop essential life skills and grow through a range of partnerships, including world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Grammy Award winner Third Coast Percussion, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Obama Foundation.

Jennifer Kim-Matsuzawa

More than 90% of the school’s population is students of color with 100% high school graduation and college attendance rates. TPMS is supported by private donations; funds raised through the gala are essential to continuing educational programs.

Sponsors of this year’s gala included: Dan and Susie Ephraim, The Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation, Richard and Elaine Tinberg, John W. Rogers Jr., Perry Family Charitable Foundation, and more. 

donate now

A full list of sponsors is at peoplesmusicschool.org/pass-it-on. To donate visit peoplesmusicschool.org/donate/.


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Amanda Marrazzo lives in the northwest Chicago suburb of Algonquin. She has been a news reporter for 25 years, including 17 years writing for the Chicago Tribune. She is married with two adult daughters and two dogs.