City Music Gala Raises $2 Million for Life-Changing Program

Boston’s philanthropic community came out in force for Berklee’s 21st annual Encore Gala to benefit the Berklee City Music program on Saturday, October 24, 2015.

November 5, 2015

Boston’s philanthropic community came out in force for Berklee’s 21st annual Encore Gala to benefit the Berklee City Music program on Saturday, October 24, 2015, at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, raising $2 million in the process. As has become annual tradition, the night was filled with giving, great music, and even greater promise from the next generation of musicians.

The evening’s emcee was beloved comedian, actor, and musician Sinbad, who won over the crowd by reflecting upon his first encounter with Berklee. “When I was in high school, I played basketball but I also played drums, so I called up Berklee in 1974, and said, ‘Yo, do you have a basketball team?’”

Nowadays, Sinbad might have been in luck through Berklee’s athletics partnership with Emerson College, but in those days, Sinbad said, the Berklee staff person he spoke to told him, “’You think that’s funny?’” and then promptly hung up on him.

Nonetheless, Sinbad—who has since gone on to take courses remotely via Berklee Online—has nothing but love for Berklee today, and while there were plenty of jokes to be had at this celebration, all in attendance were aware that the evening’s party came with the purpose of supporting the Berklee City Music program, the nonprofit organization dedicated to the musical, academic, social, and emotional development of youth from underserved communities.

Watch Berklee City Music students and parents discuss the program:

Turning Dreams into Realities

The gala swung into gear with a performance of Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For,” which featured lush vocals from Robert Gould, a Berklee student from Fayetteville, Georgia, who came to the college by way of the Berklee City Music program and who plans to graduate in the spring. Since coming to Berklee, Gould has taken on internships with the Grammys, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and the pop duo Karmin; recorded with funk master George Clinton; and sung the national anthem in front of a crowd of some 30,000 baseball fans at Fenway Park—all told, an extraordinarily impressive start to his budding career.

“All of that was made possible by City Music,” Gould said. “I wouldn’t be at Berklee if it wasn’t for the City Music program, and it has taken me to a place where my dreams have become realities and doors I never could have imagined have opened.”

After graduating from Berklee, Gould, who leads his own group, the Robert Gould Experience, plans to intertwine his performance and business aspirations, ultimately aiming for a career as a media and entertainment mogul in a vein similar to that of Ryan Seacrest.

“I owe it to my family and to those who’ve invested in me to dream big,” Gould said.

At this year’s Encore Gala—sponsored by Bain Capital (for the 10th year in a row), Abrams Capital, the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation, and Aramark—many “Fund a Future” donors stepped up to help foster the pursuit of more big dreams.

A Night of Musical Wonder

Throughout the night, the black tie- and ballroom gown-clad attendees bid on a number of auction items—everything from lavish vacation packages to a recording session at Berklee—and meandered from one themed music room to another across multiple floors of the Boston Marriott Copley. In addition to headlining act Michael McDonald H ’11—the singer-songwriter and five-time Grammy winner who has performed with the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan and who has written hits for everyone from Van Halen to Patti LaBelle—more than 150 Berklee students performed in assorted rooms throughout the venue.

Berklee President Roger H. Brown recommended that attendees make time to listen to the Berklee Indian Ensemble, which delighted listeners with a sweeping set in the venue’s third-floor atrium. The evening’s bill also included a faculty and student band that featured Sinbad on conga and Brown on drum set for popular favorites like Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better)” and Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.”

One of the night’s most impressive sets, however, came from the gala’s least experienced musicians: the City Music All-Stars. Directed by Winston Maccow, associate professor of ensemble, the group inspired both concentrated listening to hard bebop jazz as well as the joy of a spontaneous conga line as the talented high school students ripped into Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You” with drummer LeShawn Harris and bassist Dan Winshall, both of Jamaica Plain, keeping things tight, funky, and in-the-pocket as the remainder of the band embarked upon well-wrought vocals and solos.

In between songs, one gala attendee said to another, “Can you believe these kids are in high school?”

With the right eyes, one can see the bright paths down which these kids may be headed—paths similar to that traveled by a student like Gould.

“City Music provided me an opportunity that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Gould said. “It changed my life.”