Encore Gala Raises Nearly $2 Million for Berklee City Music

By 
Alison Arnett
November 2, 2017
Special guest Courtney Harrell '01 performs with a student Lea Grace Hicks-Swinson at the Berklee Encore Gala on October 21.
Master of ceremonies Rickey Minor
Guests bid on auction items.
Krystal Banfield, interim vice president of education outreach and social entrepreneurship, and J. Curtis Warner, associate vice president of community and government relations, talk about the power of Berklee City Music.
Special guest Tavares, a Grammy Award–winning funk, R&B, and soul group, performs.
The Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra performs.
Eguie Castrillo, associate professor of percussion, and his orchestra perform.
Donna McElroy, a Berklee voice professor, performs.
From left to right: Dean Goodermote, David Gross-Loh, Amy Abrams, Roger H. Brown, David Abrams, Susan Berk, and Lee Berk
From left to right: David and Lori Sprows, Roger H. Brown, and Jim O'Brien
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer
Image by Mike Spencer

Singer-songwriter Courtney Harrell '01 didn’t mince words when she spoke to more than 700 guests at Berklee's 23rd annual Encore Gala that supports Berklee City Music®. “I grew up in this program,” she said of City Music, a nonprofit outreach organization that leverages the power of contemporary music to empower youth from underserved communities to develop musically, academically, socially, and emotionally. “I wouldn’t say it changed my life—it literally saved my life.”

Harrell, who has written for and performed with Mary J. Blige, John Legend, and many others, was a special guest for the gala—held October 21 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place—which raised nearly $2 million for City Music.

Through City Music, Harrell said she found her voice and her talent. “It allowed my heart to sing.” After Harrell, a Boston native, became pregnant at 17, the program leaders “put me back together” and embraced not only her, but her son. Upon completion of her time with City Music, she won a full scholarship to Berklee.

Supporting young musicians is the purpose behind the annual Encore Gala, with its silent auction, celebrity appearances, and a full evening of music in different venues of the hotel. In the 25 years since its founding, City Music has helped hundreds of thousands of students from fourth to 12th grade in Boston and 46 other sites around the United States and Canada. This year’s gala was made possible thanks to copresenting sponsors Abrams Capital and Bain Capital Community Partnership, cochairs Jim and Judy O'Brien and David and Lori Sprows, colead sponsors Aramark Education, Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation, and platinum sponsors Diane Arnold and Dean Goodermote.

"[Berklee City Music] allowed my heart to sing."—Courtney Harrell '01

A Music-Filled Evening

In addition to its philanthropic aim, the gala is also a night to celebrate music and musicians.

Master of ceremonies Rickey Minor—a composer, producer, and Emmy Award winner—kicked off the evening's festivities in the ballroom, describing how music “changed the trajectory” of his life from growing up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, to a career that included leading The Tonight Show with Jay Leno band to serving as musical director of American Idol and the Grammys. The smartly dressed audience cheered after Harrell and Berklee student Leah Grace Hicks-Swinson sang a soaring rendition of “From a Distance.”

The Berklee City Music Alumni Ensemble, four of whom are now Berklee students, played during dinner. Berklee President Roger H. Brown introduced former president Lee Berk and his wife, Susan, and the evening’s sponsors. Brown later remarked that City Music is “the essence of what we do here at Berklee.”

Before the gala dinner, guests had roamed the halls, checking out auction items that ranged from an African safari to Gibson Les Paul guitars to fine wines and spa packages. Auction assistants with iPads stood by, taking bids.

After the dinner, as the crowd began to disperse from the banquet ballroom, they took the advice that Harrell had given earlier to “let the music wash over you,” heading off to find such musical acts as the Venezuelan Project, Hunter LaMar and the Goon Squad, Donna McElroy and Jetro Da Silva, and the Boston Conservatory at Berklee Musical Theater Showcase. The evening ended back in the ballroom where Tavares, a Grammy Award–winning funk, R&B, and soul group, played until midnight.

As guest Jeanne Mooney of Belmont, Massachusetts, said, “The night is so much fun that you find yourself staying to the end just to hear all the music.”