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A conversation with Nurit Siegel Smith, new Executive Director of the Music Forward Foundation of the House of Blues

Meet the Executive Director of the Music Forward Foundation of the House of Blues

Nurit Siegel Smith is the new Executive Director of the Music Forward Foundation of the House of Blues, which contributes over a million dollars year to music industry education.  Smith assumes leadership as Music Forward embarks on its 25th year.

She is stepping into some pretty big shoes — over the past quarter century, Music Forward – formerly known as the House of Blues Foundation —  has impacted the lives of a million young people with hundreds of partners, thousands of mentors, tens of thousands of hours of volunteer time. She generously let us interrupt her very busy day to learn about her vision for the Foundation.

Patrick.  Congratulations. This has got to be the coolest job ever!

Nurit. It is exciting.  I am six months into it and I have been in awe of my staff here, the youth  I have been in contact with, all the support around the country and the engagement with our partners.  It is exciting.

Patrick.  Tell us your vision- what do you see as the role of music in education and society and how you intend to lead Music Forward to fill that role as best as possible?

Nurit.  Music is such a powerful force- it is a universal language that influences everyone,  It lives in our hearts and our memories and defines our most significant moments. The music industry creates these culture-shaping products with music with artists with brands and that is why it so critical to have diverse voices in the music industry. We say that we transform young lives, we kick start careers, but also we champion a more inclusive music industry. We are working  with youth and improving economic opportunities for disadvantaged young people and at the same time building a more diverse pipeline of talent for the industry to enrich it with their voices so they can start to use the power of music to tell their story and change society.

Patrick. That is a big mission. how did the foundation start and what was its goal?

Nurit. We were formed in 1993 by the founders of the House of Blues.  They envisioned a charitable arm to the venue that would be arts to schools with programs that promoted cultural understanding and encouraged creativity and manifested the core beliefs of unity in diversity – help ever, hurt never,  which resonates deeply in the organization today.

Patrick.  As part of that the foundation has a scholarship program.  How does that work?

Nurit. This is our first year.  We partnered with Live Nation, US concert diversion.  We were ab le to activate these scholarships for college students nationally juniors and seniors that are preparing for careers in the live entertainment business. One is for women, the other two are for either gender.  There are $30,000 – three $10,000 scholarships. This year we gave one to a young man from Cal State Northridge, a young girl at the Berkee School of Music and one girl form the New School in New York.

Patrick. One of your alums, Rayvn Lenae is on national tour now playing lot of cities including the House of Blues in Boston. When you hear about someone that went through your program and is now filling venues all over the country- is that what  you hope for, is that success for you?

Nurit. That is a good question.  We want to give young people not only the skills and knowledge for success in the music industry, but also success in any endeavor, whatever they  want to do for them to able to reach their highest potential. Yes , on one had we are delighted that we helped kick start her career and hone her craft and that she signed with Atlantic record and that she is playing the Voodoo Festival in a few weeks in New Orleans.  That is amazing for us.

Patrick.  the foundation operates a program called Blues school House.  Does that let you – and all of us – understand better how music affects lives?

Nurit.  This one of our legacy programs – been around for 20 years.  Now at the Boston House of Blues. It traces the history of blues music from its roots in Africa to its emergence as a unique American music form and how it has impacted all of our music.  We take the youth through a 70 min performance, from Africa in the 1500’s to the social conditions that brought the blues, jazz, rock and roll, hip hop rap and you see how intricately women the African American experience is in the American music experience.

Patrick. I talked with one of your program partners, the Lacer school program in LA. The Foundation built them a recording studio and bought instruments for them. He told me that over 90% of students who go through a music program graduate from high school – music does a lot whether or not they go into the industry.

Nurit.  You know, over 1.2 million youth in America are disengaged – not in school and not working. We want to make sure they are engaged and we know from our assessments that 100% of students who go through our program are in school or are working.  

Patrick. Does the foundation teach music or support music schools?

Nurit. When we moved from the International House of Blues Foundation to Music Forward, we did a analysis of the nonprofit landscape and found that there are many organizations focused on music literacy and on giving instruments to kids and on music education.  So we carved out a unique space – a significant space within the music business education and career development. We can bolt-on to and support a lot of the work that other great nonprofits are doing in the music education space to help the kids already with them turn their passion for music into professions.

Patrick.  How can we get more women into running record companies and producing?

Nurit.  Great question!  This is one of our major initiatives and focal points.  There was research report in March by Dr. Stacy Smith and her team a USC looking at 5+ years of awards and top 100 hits that made us realize that there is a major gender disparity in the industry – one female producer for every 49 male producers.  Music Forward’s constituents are 1 female to every 1.3 males – so we are trying to breakup that systemic stuff and empower young women and for the industry to elevate women, giving them skill and knowledge and social capital to advance.

Patrick. What is the Ambassadors Council?

Nurit.  The Ambassadors Council – you are the first to know since we have not announced it yet. We are building a group of brand ambassadors, high visibility artists who will help share our message and galvanize youth around our mission.  We have Sophia Carson, BT Collins and Carlos Santana who are jumping in as our inaugural ambassadors – More news to come!!

Patrick. Another program is All Access Fest, which opens this week in Chicago and then moves to Vegas, LA and New Orleans. What is that?

Nurit.  The All Access Fest are free networking events for young people 16-22.  There are workshops, panels with industry leaders and employers and educational institutions.  This is our inaugural year and we hope to be doing it again next year. Chicago is today, LA and New Orleans open  next week. Folks should check our web site and check it out.

Patrick.  What is your Bring Down the House program?

Nurit.  This is one of our seminal programs. It is our emerging artist incubator, where we cultivate artists.  Many of our alumni come out of this incubator. It is where we leverage a youth’s interest in musical stardom and teach them about the business and technical aspects of performance, and introduce them to a range of careers in the music industry.  This is an application process and it launches in January, so people should keep an eye out for that.

Patrick.  How do people to that, and get involved with music Forward?

Nurit  Our website is the place to go.  It guides people to the places where they feel comfortable getting involved. We can’t do what we do without partners and collaborators involved with us. There are ways to volunteer, to partner, to donate.  We love to have people from the music industry share their knowledge, partner with us. People can hashtag us, share us, help create buzz around our empowering the next generation.

Patrick.  Thank you Nurit.

Nurit.  Thank you!

Patrick O’Heffernan.  Host, Music FridayLive!, Co-Host MúsicaFusionLA

 

Music Forward Foundation of the House of Blues. www.hobmusicfoward.org

 

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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