High-profile recording artists Tony Bennett, Gavin DeGraw, and former New York Yankees star and Latin jazz guitarist Bernie Williams spoke at a reception at the U.S. Capitol last week to lobby Congress to support public school music programs.
According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, a government organization, more than 90 percent of American public high schools offer music classes, but more than 80 percent of those classes were offered two times a week or fewer. Music classes are offered at 94 percent of public elementary schools.
But many school districts, including some in Milwaukee and Philadelphia, have considered or enacted cuts to music programs to help balance budgets. DeGraw, whose 2003 album Chariot went platinum, said music is being overlooked as a result of policymakers focusing on the STEM education crisis.
"I don't think any of us would disagree that math and science are important, but there's a cultural element missing in math that music provides," he said. "When I meet someone, I don't talk about math with them. I don't ask people what math book they're reading."
[From left: Bernie Williams; Gavin DeGraw; Tom Calderone, VH1 Save the Music Foundation; Tony Bennett; Susan Benedetto; Joe Lamond, National Association of Music Merchants]
DeGraw was at the reception on behalf of the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, the lobbying and philanthropic arm of the VH1 television channel. Save the Music has provided more than $47 million worth of musical instruments for 1,750 public schools nationwide. VH1 president Tom Calderone was also present to show his support.
The most famous celebrity in attendance was 15-time Grammy winner Tony Bennett, whose $78 million public Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School in Queens, N.Y., has a 96 percent graduation rate. Bennett and wife Susan Benedetto plan to support 13 additional arts schools over the next few years.
"We hope to see every public school in the United States have an art program," he said. "It would be the best thing that ever happened to the United States because the whole premise of art is to search for truth and beauty. When you give that to the world, every country in the world will respect us so much."