Malibu fundraiser benefits

Macy Gray with jazz pianist (right) Ray Kennedy and Marc Monroe. Gray's new school, the M. Gray Music Academy, will provide intense music instruction to students and hopes to provide full scholarships to students when needed. Cathryn Sacks / TMT

Macy Gray music academy

Malibu resident Albert Stern opened his home to a fundraiser for the M. Gray Music Academy, a nonprofit private school that seeks to educate at least 500 students annually in music.

By Vive DeCou / Special to The Malibu Times

Studies show that students who are exposed to music at a young age do better in math, science and language proficiency. Music education has also been shown to correlate with a decrease in drug use and violence among underprivileged youth. Yet all across the United States, budget cuts are forcing public schools to slash music education from the curriculum. Programs that remain open may ask families to pay hundreds of dollars for their children to participate-a requirement that excludes low-income students who would arguably benefit the most. This trend is alarming to those who believe that music education is vital to a child’s development and increases success in school and in life.

However, there is a growing movement to improve access for all children to music education and prevent it from disappearing in schools.

It was to these ends that a group of professionals and music lovers gathered Saturday evening in Malibu to support the M. Gray Music Academy, a new school in North Hollywood launched by soul/pop singer Macy Gray, dedicated to providing students with a complete musical education. Pianist and philanthropist Janet Colburn hosted the event, which took place at the Villa Cote d’Azure, the home of violinist Albert Stern and family. Colburn has been supporting the arts for decades with her friends and members of “Magic of Mozart/Mozart & Company,” many of whom attended the event, along with performers and recording artists.

Colburn encouraged guests to peruse the various paintings and memorabilia up for auction and to enjoy the food, wine and live music that was provided.

“It’s not really a music night,” Colburn explained. “It’s more of an open house.”

Guests mingled and enjoyed Champagne as they learned more about the academy and its vision.

Skip Mancusi, a resident of Huntington Beach, has been attending Colburn’s events for years and regularly supports music and charities.

“There is a cross section of people here,” he said. “But there is one thing they all have in common; they all love Mozart and the classics.”

Reiner Beck, a restaurateur from Marina Del Rey, is also a member of the Mozart group.

“I like the intimate concerts that [Colburn] hosts,” he said. “They are like the old salon concerts of Europe in the Renaissance.”

Newcomer Wendy Calhoun, a television producer, brought her young daughter, Brenna Miller, who will be attending the M. Gray Music Academy for its winter camp starting Dec. 19.

“This is our first exposure to the academy,” she said, excited by the opportunity that it provided her daughter. “She is going to try out all the different instruments and see what she likes.”

The Guitar Center Music Education Foundation donated many of the items up for auction, including an electric guitar that was signed at the event by Gray and songwriter Ray Kennedy. Kennedy, who has worked with recording artists such as The Beach Boys and Ray Charles, wasn’t shy about expressing his dedication to the cause.

“We have to work very hard because the kids need this,” he said. “If we all come together then we can make a difference.”

Other items up for auction included a signed Iron Maiden wall poster and a signed Isaac Hayes album. Paintings up for auction by various artists decorated the walls and ranged in subject from elaborate landscapes to human figures.

Grammy Award-winning singer Macy Gray arrived late and thanked the guests for their support of the academy by attending its very first fundraiser.

“We have so much work to do,” she said. “The goal is to make it free, so we need lots of money.”

Many of the academy’s instructors were present and Gray introduced them to the guests.

“We have some really great teachers,” she said. “We have great supporters who work for the school every day and don’t ask anything. They just do it for the love.”

The M. Gray Music Academy is a nonprofit private school that seeks to educate at least 500 students annually and encourage them through intense instruction to become recording artists and develop music careers.

The school offers holiday and summer camps as well as four, 10-week semesters per year. Extensive instruction in music writing and recording is included, and full scholarships are available when necessary.

The evening was concluded by musical performances, including a set from artist Optimist with a guitar accompaniment from Shawn Stern, son of Albert Stern. The pair performed original material as well as a cover of the Bob Marley hit “Redemption Song.”