Chubby Checker sings praises of Settlement school’s music lessons for low-income kids

The Settlement Music School in Philadelphia has gotten its largest programming grant to date. The South Philadelphia-based school has received $250,000 to give low-income children music lessons.

The grant is part of a $1.26 million initiative by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, whose “Widening the Stage” grants were distributed to programs in six cities nationwide.

The money will go toward instruments and instruction for low-income students who demonstrate musical aptitude.

“For those kids who have gone through the beginning, have got the bug, can hear those symphonies in their head all day long, and they need that support to get to that next level,” said Natalie Rodriguez Jansorn, the grants manager of the Cooke Foundation.

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“Widening the Stage” is a pilot program for the Cooke Foundation, which also partners with the public broadcasting program, “From the Top.” Settlement was chosen to receive the grant for its long track record of successfully training young musicians.

One of Settlement’s shining success stories is Ernest Evans, better known as Chubby Checker, who grew up on the tough streets of South Philly in the 1940s and ’50s. He became the man who wrote “The Twist,” and spent more time on the top of the Billboard hit list than anyone else.

He says two things contributed to his musical training: the year he spent at Settlement School learning piano and Tubby the Tuba.

“Tubby. He was a tuba, and all he did was bomp bomp bomp bomp,” said Evans about the 1947 cartoon. “He was very unhappy because that’s all he could do, but he didn’t realize that if you put all the instruments together with that, how wonderful it sounds. I learned from that how to arrange music.”

Just like that cartoon tuba, kids in Philadelphia who want to become better musicians will have an opportunity for advanced instruction.

“We’ll get these children not only involved in individual instruction, but also get them playing in our orchestras and choirs and new jazz bands that we’ve started,” said Settlement executive director Helen Eaton. “And also we will start our first touring ensemble. We will have a partnership with 3rd Street Settlement of the Lower East Side of New York.”

The grant is for one year, renewable for three years.

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