The People’s Music School Celebrates Over 40 Years of Social and Musical Impact

The People’s Music School Celebrates Over 40 Years of Social and Musical Impact, Honors Groundbreaking Entrepreneur Genevieve Thiers

From an impressive turnaround with the introduction of their new president, Jennifer Kim Matsuzawa, in 2015, to a performance at the Obama Summit last November, Chicao nonprofit The People’s Music School (TPMS) has continued to stand for impact and innovation. The school, which today provides tuition-free music education to nearly 700 students ages 5-18 and sustains a 100 percent graduation and college attendance rate for their seniors, was founded in 1976 by an immigrant from the Dominican Republic named Rita Simo, whose dream of making high-quality music education accessible to all children regardless of socioeconomic status began with an old storefront, a donated piano, and $625. Despite the school’s tremendous growth and transformation, it has stayed true to Simo’s original vision: students at TPMS not only receive intensive music instruction, but are taught to use music as a vehicle to empower themselves and their communities — to raise their voices.

The People's Music School: Obama Summit

With its innovative model and renewed energy, The People’s Music School has attracted support from like-minded change-makers such as Genevieve Thiers, founder of, civic leader, investor, and opera singer. Throughout her career, Thiers’ focus has been on uplifting others by investing in female entrepreneurs, solving problems for women, and now serving as a technology advisor to The People’s Music School. Thiers, a leader in the tech world, has helped The People’s Music School pioneer their 2017 Music Hack and bring new, tech-based teaching methods into the classroom.

“Technology is really important to The People’s Music School,” says Matsuzawa. “It’s going to be the platform with which we can really scale and increase our impact to not just hundreds of students across Chicago, but to thousands of students across the country. It’s really important for us to think about how we can get the benefits of music to more of our underserved young people.”

To celebrate Thiers’ efforts to expand their impact, The People’s Music School will be honoring her at their annual gala, Let It Shine, on May 11 with their “Raise Your Voice” award. Besty Ziegler, the new (and first female) CEO of 1871, will be presenting the award to Thiers. Along with Thiers, The People’s Music School will be honoring other innovators and community leaders who have helped propel them forward, including Dominique Louis, a percussion teacher and Haitian immigrant who has been with the school for nearly 20 years and served as a father-figure to hundreds of students. Jeremy McCarter, co-author of the ultimate immigrant story “Hamilton: The Revolution” with Lin-Manuel Miranda, will be presenting his award.

Held at Morgan Manufacturing in the Fulton Market district, the evening will  feature a cocktail reception, seated dinner, and special student and guest performances throughout the evening, including a performance by Grammy-award winning artists Third Coast Percussion, another artistic partner of the school. Jennifer and Ashley Keller and Katy and Jonathan Kletzel — business leaders, community investors, and board members of TPMS — will serve as co-chairs of the event.

The People's Music School student

Since its founding, The People’s Music School has impacted more than 10,000 lives through tuition-free music education. Today, the school serves students from across Chicago through four sites in Uptown, Albany Park, Back of the Yards, and Greater South Side. Through their studies with The People’s Music School and the strong culture of support the school fosters, students develop essential life skills, find their voice, and grow through a range of high-impact partnerships and residencies the school has formed, from Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to Chicago Public Schools and Bottom Line college prep, to Young Chicago Authors. The school’s intensive curriculum is designed to provide access to the unique benefits of a music education, enabling children to grow musically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually, regardless of economic barriers.

“Research shows that intensive music education leads to higher graduation rates, higher salaries, higher rates of voting and volunteering, lower rates of crime, and more,” says Renee Davis, the director of development for The People’s Music School. “We are not only inspiring young minds to experience the joy of music — we are transforming and empowering lives.” 

Since 2015, the school’s students served and annual revenue have more than doubled, and The People’s Music School aims to continue this growth and take in more students off their long waiting list. As the school is 100 percent tuition-free, and supported by private donations, funds raised through the gala, their biggest event of the year, are essential to continuing their programs. And this year, The Reva and David Logan Foundation of Chicago has generously pledged to match 25 cents for each $1 donated to their gala. Through this pledge, they are eligible to receive up to $100,000.

“We are Chicago’s special gem, empowering the next generation of citizens and artists with the support of thousands of volunteers, funders, teachers, artists, alumni, and more,” Matsuzawa notes.

Tickets for the event can be purchased online. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 11, at Morgan Manufacturing (401 N. Morgan St.). Valet parking will be available. To learn more about the event and sponsorship opportunities, please see The People’s Music School’s website and contact

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