Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer Darlene Love stepped out in front of the microphone and, to her surprise, the audience exploded with deafening cheers and applause. Why was this pop star, famous for hits like “He’s A Rebel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” so shocked at this tremendous reception?
Maybe it was because the audience was a classroom filled with nearly 50 pre-teens from Franklin L. Williams Middle School in Jersey City, NJ that participate in Music Will’s free music program, and they all stayed after the final bell had rung, just to meet her.
The kids had been anxiously awaiting this special visitor, who came bearing gifts – two-dozen assorted guitars that were donated by Music Will. The students’ excitement was illustrated by the amazing artwork lining the walls of the hallway leading to the music room – paintings, cardboard cutouts, posters with song lyrics and even sculptures… all of Darlene Love at various stages of her illustrious career.
“It’s like my own, personal hall of fame!” she exclaimed as she walked down the hallway toward the classroom.
Love told the children tales of her musical and theatrical journey, from her time with Phil Spector and The Crystals, to her acting career in movies like Lethal Weapon and in Broadway shows like Hairspray.
She spoke to them about the hard work and perseverance required to succeed, and her passion for singing and for music. Many of the students, inspired by the work of Music Will and by their teacher, Mr. Flora, expressed that they too shared this same passion. Love fueled their zeal by belting out a few lines of some of her favorite songs. She looked and sounded decades younger than 71 years old.
Students eagerly began asking questions about her early career as a backup singer, and how she made the transition into solo-artist stardom. They asked her about the times she thought she couldn’t make it, and about the people that tried to bring her down, feeling comforted that she shared some of the same vulnerabilities that they do.
Love was unmistakably genuine in answering each and every one of the students’ questions, emphasizing how lucky the children are to have such a dedicated music teacher to teach, inspire and empower them. Her stories of a time before fortune and fame painted a picture of humble beginnings and a world of opportunity that lay before many of the young musicians seated before her. She reminded them to never let anyone keep them down, and that nobody can take away their dreams.
“We learn music a certain way here in our Music Will class,” said Mr. Flora. “We learn as part of a “De-rock-racy.”
“A democracy is a government by the people, for the people,” 8th grader Laura Guerrero explained.
“And shouldn’t a music classroom be governed the same way?” Flora said.
The students concurred and assembled to show Love an example of their de-rock-racy. Backed by a 30-student choir, the Music Will band performed a ten-minute “mash-up” of songs they’d been learning all year, including pop hits by Bruno Mars, Mumford and Sons, and Taylor Swift.
Then, they invited Love (and Mayor Jeremiah Healy of Jersey City!) up to join them and turned back the clock a few decades with a rendition of “Lean on Me.”
With a grin from ear to ear, Love then unveiled the instruments she brought with her, a gift purchased with the funds raised at Music Will’s 10th anniversary Right to Rock Benefit in October, at which she performed.
It was a heartwarming conclusion to an inspirational day, and a perfect illustration of how Music Will is impacting the lives of children through music.