Michael McKean, Bernie Williams, Keb’ Mo’, Darlene Love & Founder David Wish On Little Kids Rock’s 2017 Event

Founded by David Wish, Little Kids Rock has presented more than 650,000 underserved schoolchildren with access to instruments and music education. Working on this mission since 2002, Little Kids Rock founder David Wish has made an impact in over 200 school districts around the United States. According to Way, the goal is for it to have served over 1 million students by the year 2020, which it currently seems on-track for.

As music education is a cause that speaks to many high-profile people, the annual Little Kids Rock benefit in New York is known to be a star-studded event. This year’s event, which took place at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square on October 18, was no exception. Michael McKean served as host, while the evening’s honorees were Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, and City Winery founder Michael Dorf. Other attendees included actor Mike Myers, guitarist Keb’ Mo’, Yankees legend Bernie Williams, designers Steve Madden and Charlotte Ronson, Late Show with David Letterman musicians Paul Shaffer and Will Lee, and singers Bettye LaVette, Darlene Love, Nate Ruess, and Harry Connick Jr. In addition to many of these entertainers getting on-stage to perform, the event also featured the auctioning of rare events and experiences, including items related to Metallica, the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Red Bulls, Rachael Ray, Slash, Bret Michaels, G. Love, Criss Angel, Journey, and Tony Bennett.

While attending the event — which raised $1.2 million — I had the pleasure of speaking with not only Little Kids Rock founder David Wish, but also the aforementioned Michael McKean, Bernie Williams, Keb’ Mo’, Michael Dorf, and Darlene Love. More information on the worthwhile organization, including how to get involved and where to donate, can be found at www.littlekidsrock.org.

Where did the idea for Little Kids Rock come from?

David Wish: I was a first-grade teacher in the Bay Area many years back, working with kids coming from economically-disadvantaged homes and communities. The school had no funding for a music program, and this upset me greatly. Because I believe that all kids — really, all people — are innately musical, and music unlocks a child’s creativity, which is what the future of this world will depend upon. So I started giving free, weekly after-school music classes to my kids. I saw the tremendous impact it had on them, their engagement with school, their self-expression. So I taught a few of my colleagues my instruction method, and well… you know the saying, “You tell two friends…” It exploded from there.

How did you first find out about Little Kids Rock?

Michael Dorf: I don’t remember, but I have vetted a lot of music programs. After I did the Carnegie Hall tribute shows for a few years, Little Kids Rock surfaced. They are super-effective with the money, which I care about. David does an amazing job of keeping his eye on that ball. I see the effectiveness. I’ve gotten deeper with them, watching the students perform at City Winery. To see their maturity as little artists into real artists, possibly into professional musicians, how cool is that?

Keb’ Mo’: I don’t know, but the good thing is that I found out about it. (laughs) It’s like school, I don’t remember all the years things happened, but I’m here right now. I like giving kids the same opportunities that I had.

Michael McKean: I didn’t know about it at all. My manager called, “You want to do this thing?” He got most of the phrase “Bonnie Raitt” out and I said, “Yeah.” Then “Elvis Costello” lands and I said, “When?” I read up on it a little bit and I’ve always felt that music is something that we have in us. It’s kind of like the chicken pox virus (laughs), but not everyone’s going to use it or have talent. Everyone knows music.

You hear earworms from when you were 4-years-old and they’re still there. My daughter and I are trying to write a series about all the tunes we know. Why does everyone know (sings melody) “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah?” (end of singing) You know exactly what it means. Everyone has a theory about it. With any luck, they’ll let us chase stuff down… We’re going to pitch something really expensive and probably scale it back. (laughs)

Darlene Love: I started out about six years ago, almost when they started, because of Steven Van Zandt. He asked me to do it for the kids, and anytime I can do anything for children, I’m there, especially if I’m not doing anything… I went to a lot of the schools, and that’s what I like to do, they’re so grateful. To see the look on their faces when they see all these brand spanking new instruments, and that’s another reason I love this organization, they give all the money to buying these buying these new instruments.

Bernie Williams: Through my manager Steve Fortunato… All these things all basically converge from one goal, to bring instruments and music education to kids. Little Kids Rock is right in the middle of it, so I was very happy to be involved.

Was Little Kids Rock the first idea for a name you had?

David Wish: No, actually. It was originally called the “Hawes Elementary School Elementary Guitar Club.” That’s a mouthful! I changed it to Little Kids Rock when we became a nonprofit 15 years ago. The big surprise is that sometime in the coming year we will be changing our name again, this time for the last time. Why? Because we teach kids from kindergarten through the 12th grade, and while we do teach rock, we also teach hip-hop, country, and all the other music that kids love.

How do you usually go about getting artists involved with your cause?

David Wish: I ask because some very prominent people will be appearing at your upcoming event in New York. It is such a natural fit for them. These well-known artists were once kids themselves who had their own lives changed through music. Music is universal. Music is what makes us fully human. And so you’re tapping into people’s feelings about something that is as elemental to them as air or water. And then when you layer ‘youth development’ on top of that, and the social justice aspect of making great arts education available to all kids, no matter their zip code, you really have a winning proposition.

Aside from this event, what’s coming up for your organization?

David Wish: We’re building a movement to bring culturally-responsive, inclusive music education to every student in this country. Modern Band, the music program we pioneered, gets kids musically proficient by putting instruments in their hands so they learn while playing, performing, and composing the music they know and love. We believe that children should see themselves, their interests, and their cultures reflected in their arts education. This is a human right. And so practically every week of the year, we are training educators all over the country in this method of teaching, as well as providing curricula and instruments to schools and districts. We’re also making inroads into higher ed, working with those who are teaching the next generation of music educators.

What is your favorite restaurant in New York?

Michael Dorf: If I’m eating pasta, I’ve got to go to Babbo. If I can, I love going to the Greek, it’s a small restaurant in Tribeca. I’m a downtown guy.

Keb’ Mo’: New York has changed so much, I haven’t really had a chance to pick a favorite one.

Michael McKean: My favorite place to go is Kenny Shopsin’s restaurant in the Essex Market. I’ve been to all of Kenny’s restaurants. He’s one of a kind, he’s a lovely guy. But we were just at Patsy’s for spaghetti and meatballs, yesterday, for my birthday. My wife said, “Where do you want to go?” I said, “I want to eat spaghetti,” and we went to Patsy’s. We were very happy.

Darlene Love: It actually is the Palm, believe it or not. The one right up here [on 8th Avenue]. That’s because when I was doing Hairspray, it was right around the corner, and we used to go after the show and eat. (laughs)

Bernie Williams: Very hard. It depends on what mood I’m in, and I will not disclose it. (laughs)

What was the last concert you went for fun?

Keb’ Mo’: The other day I saw Bill Murray in Chicago.

Darlene Love: I think it was actually Bette Midler, opening night of Hello, Dolly!. I was so excited because there wasn’t a ticket to be found, and I called and begged. (laughs) My buddy said if there’s a way, we’ll get you in, and they did.

Bernie Williams: Toto at the Ridgefield Playhouse. Good set, man.

When not busy with Little Kids Rock, David, how do you like to spend your free time?

David Wish: I love to spend time with my family, read, play music, swim, hike, invent new musical instruments, and try to think of solutions to problems that hurt our communities and our planet.

Finally, any last words for the kids?

David Wish: YOU are who is going to make our world a better place. You have the creativity and the passion and the curiosity and the wits inside of you. Believe in yourself, because we believe in you. Find your voice and unleash it. Sing your song loudly. Make this planet a more harmonious place than it was when you first arrived!

Michael Dorf: Practice, practice, practice? (laughs) Do it if you love doing it. Figure out what you want to do and do what you want to do.

Keb’ Mo’: Whatever you’re gonna do, you’re gonna be a success at it. Don’t worry, just keep going at it. Let nothing stop you. The only thing that will stop you is yourself.

Michael McKean: Turn up that noise. Don’t let them tell you differently. I mean, if it’s after 11 o’clock, let your parents sleep. Turn it up, dig music, let music speak to you, then figure out how to speak to it.

Darlene Love: If you love what you do, and you’re given a gift… All of us have been there. We have to keep on believing, pursuing, and if it’s your love, you’ll never be satisfied unless you do what’s in your heart.

Bernie Williams: Well, I think every kid should have an opportunity to enjoy music. Music and arts enrich their lives… Every kid should have that opportunity.

[Featured Image by Darren Paltrowitz]