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March 13, 2013

Bloomfield Hills native rocker heads to D.C.

Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to advocate for public music education

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Bloomfield Hills native rocker heads to D.C.
Chad Smith, the famed drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, will speak to congress this month about how he benefitted from music programs in Bloomfield Hills Schools.

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — For years, he’s played to packed audiences around the globe. But, when Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers appears before congress later this month, it’ll be one of his most important performances yet.

On March 19 and 20, the famed drummer and Bloomfield Hills native will join the National Association of Music Merchants to lobby leaders in Washington, D.C., on the importance of comprehensive music education in public schools across the country. The trip, known as the Advocacy Fly-In, is an annual effort organized by NAMM to promote federal education policy and funding that will ensure students across the country will always have access to music instruction.

Smith said he knows just how valuable music education can be to students. As a product of Bloomfield Hills Schools, Smith said he was heavily involved in his school’s music programs. It was because of those programs that Smith said he was able to turn his passion for drumming into a wildly successful career. The iconic band has received countless honors over the course of its nearly 30 year history, with numerous hit songs and, perhaps most notably, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

“I played in all the bands since I was in the fourth grade. I was in the Lancer Band in junior high school,” said Smith, who graduated from Lahser High School. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it wasn’t for music in public schools.”

According to a Harris Interactive Poll from 2006, school principals reported graduation rates nearly 20 percent higher in schools with robust music programs than those without programs. Similarly, the poll suggests that schools with music programs saw attendance rates that were nearly 10 percent higher than schools without programs. Such convincing statistics are part of the reason Smith said he’s honored to join the nonprofit in Washington to serve as a “living example of music in public schools.”

“I love sports, but it’s really sad that they’ll buy new shoulder pads for the football team before they’ll have a music program,” he said. “I started playing the drums when I was seven years old and I’m still doing it today. If I didn’t have that opportunity in school, I’d probably be in jail or something. I’m just going to go and tell them my story — that I think it’s important for young people to be able to follow their passion.”

Smith will be joined at the Capitol by Bernie Williams, former New York Yankee and Latin Grammy-nominated jazz guitarist, as well as about 30 other members of the music education advocacy group. President and CEO of NAMM Joe Lamond will also be on hand to talk with members of congress about the importance of his group’s mission.

“NAMM members envision a world in which every child has a deep desire to learn music and a recognized right to be taught; and in which every adult is a passionate champion and defender of that right,” said Lamond in a prepared statement. “Our work in Washington seeks to further that aim.”

The Bloomfield Hills Board of Education, in support of Smith, joined districts nationwide by passing a resolution at its last meeting to declare March of 2013 to be Music in Our Schools month. The resolution is meant to support and promote the importance of music education in the BHS community and in public school districts across the country.

“Music education is a key component in the Bloomfield Hills Schools curriculum. We place a high value in our community on the unique opportunities we provide that allow students to explore their own talents and interests,” said BHS Communications and Community Relations Director Shira Good in an email. “Music is an active, experimental process that involves creative problem-solving, musical decision-making and risk-taking. Each year, the nation’s top colleges and universities recruit our well-trained student performers, many of whom receive awards and scholarships to prestigious programs.”

After his short stint as a lobbyist is through, Smith will join the rest of the Chili Peppers back on tour, eventually making his way back to Detroit in June for the inaugural Orion Music and More Festival on Belle Isle. Even as his drumming takes him other places, it’s Smith’s hope that his story will leave a lasting impact in Washington.

“America should be able to have the next Louis Armstrong or the next Jimi Hendrix,” he said. “I’m just a humble kid from Detroit, and I just think there should be an opportunity for future musicians. Who knows, some day you might end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

For more information National Association of Music Merchants, visit www.namm.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.