Amidst a gloomy sky filled with dark gray clouds and relentless rain outside Harmony Hall in Fort Washington, Maryland, smiles and laughter illuminated the interior as the Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education (FAME) celebrated the grand opening of its new music training studio on Saturday, Sept. 7.
“We’ve been wanting to come to the South County for such a long time because there are a lot of great musicians and talented students that we can serve here,” said Founder and CEO of FAME A. Toni Lewis, expressing her long-awaited excitement. “This location answers the call from communities to provide FAME’s programming to neighborhoods where public transportation and access to out-of-school activities are limited.”
FAME, a non-profit organization committed to ensuring equal access to quality music education for all children and young adults, irrespective of their social and economic circumstances, holds music as a key element in shaping character and nurturing a new generation of leaders for the nation.
“We believe that the power of music, which is a key factor to a well-rounded character, will produce a new generation of leaders for our nation,” Lewis explained. “We further believe that equity in the arts is vital to building strong communities.”
As guests traversed the halls of Harmony Hall, they discovered a three-room studio. In the primary room, Lewis explained, “Desktops are lined with electronic keyboards, monitors, and headsets where students can produce and mix their music using the latest technology. Teachers can observe and instruct from a soundproof studio equipped with a full set of drums and several other instruments.”
This new satellite location aligns seamlessly with FAME’s mission to “give every young musician the best opportunity to succeed in life by providing music training and academic support.” It further bolsters the program’s comprehensive approach to preparing middle and high school students for college and career success through music instruction, academic support, college preparation, and work readiness.
A parent with two sons who have been involved in FAME for the past two years shared her thoughts, stating, “The program has helped them (her sons) grow musically and academically, and it is a very strong community. As a parent, I feel supported.”
Wayne Ferguson, UPS Division Manager and FAME board member for eight years, emphasized the significance of technological upgrades and the transition from a basement setup.
“I’m not a musician at all, but to see the upgrade in technology and to get this out of her basement is impressive to me. It’s exciting and makes the work well worth it. One of the major upgrades is the recording booth.”
In addition to UPS, FAME’s efforts received support from the Prince George’s Department of Parks and Recreation and a local area giving circle called Giving Together.
Co-presidents Renee Licht and Wendy Yaross highlighted their organization’s commitment to supporting programs that serve women and families in need.
“We learned after the George Floyd murder in 2020 that we all thought we knew something about structural racism, and we are against racism, but we didn’t realize how much we didn’t know and how comprehensive and deep it really goes,” Yaross explained.
Licht said the organization “learned during the pandemic that Black-led non-profits were disproportionately underfunded by mainstream philanthropy.”
“We decided we wanted to do our part in changing that picture,” Licht said. “We began finding all of these hidden gems of nonprofits doing amazing work in the DMV area. That’s how FAME came to our attention. We are so pleased and admiring of the work that Toni and FAME have done. It’s also really gratifying to see that the grantees expand and achieve more.”
Renowned jazz saxophonist and national recording artist Brian Lanier, who has been collaborating with FAME, expressed his enthusiasm for the program and Lewis’ work.
“I’m loving what Toni is doing with FAME. I wish when I was coming up, I had the facility like what they have right now. It’s priceless for learning about writing, instruments, and business. I’m happy to be a part of this experience.”
The celebrated jazz artist shared his perspective on the advancements in technology.
“Music is a getaway and a platform where you can pour out what you have inside,” Lanier told The Informer. “When I was coming up, I used two cassette players to record– one for the baseline and the other to record the medley. I’m from the Stone Age, but they no longer have to do that. The state-of-the-art technology makes things a lot easier. And Toni is amazing.”