Better Makers: The People’s Music School Raises $500K to Give Underserved Kids Tuition-Free Musical Instruction

While it’s wonderful for anyone to learn to play a musical instrument, a recent study found that kids who learn to play music reap serious academic benefits and get big boosts in skill-building. Perhaps musical instruction taps our brains in ways we don’t yet fully know or understand, but the professional music instructors at The People’s Music School, a 2019 Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award winner, see first-hand how their students’ musical instruction transfers to other areas of their lives. As the students grow musically, they also blossom socially, emotionally and intellectually.

Big Night 2022 Chair and TPMS Board member Stephanie Macakanja with her husband, Michael.

The People’s Music School, a tuition-free music school that serves hundreds of underserved kids each year throughout Chicago, held its popular annual fundraising event, Big Night, on April 7. The music-loving audience agreed the school is worth its weight in gold, helping it raise more than $500,000 that evening, including a $25,000 matching grant from sponsor The Reva and David Logan Foundation

Held at the Morgan Manufacturing, Big Night began with opening remarks by President Francis Graffeo and Gala Chair and Board Member Stephanie Macakanja, with Pedro Guerrero providing opening remarks in Spanish. 

TPMS Greater South Side Students perform in their winter concert. Credit: The People’s Music School

Student performances followed; Gracie Torres performed the Hummel Trumpet Concerto and voice student Avril de la Cruz sang Thank You For The Music along with voice teacher Stephanie Londoño. Several other students offered inspiring testimonials of their experience with the school. Guests participated in a live auction and paddle raise bringing in more than half of the evening’s proceeds, plus enjoyed a delicious dinner catered by Paramount Events and an after-party featuring live music with Chicago band Model-J.  Notable guests included Michael Buck, Ellen Feldman, Andrew Gluck, Jonathan Kletzel and Julie Lopez. Additional sponsors included The Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation and the Perry Family Charitable Foundation.

 TPMS trumpet student Gracie T. performs The Hummel Trumpet Concerto in E-flat accompanied by a faculty quartet.

Founded by Dr. Rita Simó, a Juilliard-trained pianist from the Dominican Republic, the tuition-free music school started in a repurposed barber shop, until a vacant lot on a residential block in Uptown eventually became the school’s permanent home. Today, the school serves more than 850 students each year from over 50 zip codes across Chicago; 90% are kids of color. 100% of the program’s seniors graduate from high school and enroll in college. 


How to Help:

Donate to the People’s Music School to help change the course of a young person’s life for the better by providing them with a free music education. The People’s Music School was a Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award winner in 2019. Learn about the life-changing work of other Philanthropy Award winners also deserving of your support and learn more about the award program at Make It Better Foundation.


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Donna Berry Glass

Donna Berry Glass is a freelance writer in Marin County who writes mostly about family and kid-oriented topics. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the natural beauty of Marin, snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel while reading a good book or whipping up something delicious in her space-challenged kitchen. Donna is a supporter of the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and the Institute on Aging which provides much needed services to seniors and disabled individuals.