Music emanates from our soul. It is like a trusted friend during the highest and lowest points in our lives. It permeates our lives from the songs we wake up and workout to, drive to work with, dance and party alongside, and it inspires our romantic and spiritual lives.
For me, my passion to keep public music education alive stems from my childhood growing up in New York City. I was fortunate enough to have access to public music education and instruments in junior high and high school. There, I learned how to play the saxophone, clarinet, and flute and was able to earn spending money performing at bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteen parties and other local private events.
Eventually, I even secured gigs in teen bands at upscale summer resorts in the nearby Catskill Mountains in New York. But my budding musical career was abruptly halted by my father who arrived unannounced one day at the hotel in which I was playing the teen lounge demanding that I “pack my gear and get in the truck.” The drive home was miserable, it included a lecture about finding a “real job with a paycheck and a future.” My aspiring love of music was firmly—and literally— in the rearview mirror…or so I thought!
Enter the Drake Hotel at the swanky address of 440 Park Avenue in New York City. There, I spent the rest of my teenage summers working the night shift as an elevator operator/ bellman. It was the preferred address for touring musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Led Zeppelin, as well as boxing legend Mohamad Ali, Marilyn Monroe, and “Rat Pack” members Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. When the iconic Drake opened its doors in 1928, it ushered in a new era of elegance along with a client list that read like a Who’s Who. Silent screen star Lillian Gish lived at The Drake as did singer/actress Judy Garland.
Some of my most profound life lessons and learning experiences happened at the Drake hotel or as a result of working there. While I dreamed of being a professional musician, I was learning from the brightest stars in the industry at that time who were instilling pearls of wisdom in me through candid conversations around music. The lessons I gained from the likes of John Coltrane and Sammy Davis Jr., who became a dear friend, are things that have remained with me throughout my entire life.
After spending three summers at the Drake, I left New York City as a college grad bound for California and armed with enough cash earned to put myself through law school. A few years later I began my career as a commercial real estate developer, and Laguna Beach has been my hometown now since 1978. Combining my passion for supper-club style restaurants (like the Drake Room in NYC) with my enduring connection to live music, I opened The Drake Restaurant in Laguna Beach in 2019. As we all know, the pandemic hit in 2020 and, of course, The Drake went through its struggle with the rest of the country.
Simultaneously, our public schools encountered massive shifts and adjustments that created life-altering scenarios for students. Public music education programs had already been experiencing cuts for over a decade or more, and now, many schools were having to cut them altogether. In researching, I realized that some of the most impacted school districts in our nation are right here in Orange County. In fact, Anaheim’s school district has a significantly underserved community with over 84% of students on free or reduced lunch plans.
I spent much time reflecting on how my entire life and career had been profoundly impacted by music. I decided to take action and launched The Drake Gives in 2021. It is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) whose mission is to connect, inspire, and provide underserved youth with the music education, materials, and instruments they need and deserve to fuel their passions and experience the power of music.
One of the many lessons I learned during my time at the Drake Hotel, was that music has the power to inspire, heal, and spark change. This is critically important because research and studies have conclusively established that music education, like organized athletics, dramatically helps kids develop cognitive, social, organizational skills and keeps them off the streets, reducing access to crime and drugs.
Toward this goal, The Drake Gives has partnered with Save The Music Foundation, also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, that helps students, schools, and communities reach their full music potential by providing the actual musical instruments and instruction necessary to make real impact, right here in Orange County today.
To date, The Drake Gives has raised nearly half a million dollars, and in conjunction with Save The Music Foundation, has funded public music education in the Anaheim School District. Anaheim Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Christopher Downing was recently recognized as the 2023 recipient of the Save the Music Foundation’s 18th annual Administrator Award for Distinguished Support of Music Education. The longtime educator was presented with the honor in Texas at the National Conference on Education, hosted by the AASA, the School Superintendents Association.
Our support of music education will improve children’s cognitive skills, emotional stability, social development, academic achievement, and even physical fitness. Importantly, it can help children express their feelings, reduce stress, improve mood and feelings of achievement and mental well-being. Through foundational programs like music education, we can equip our kids with the necessary skills to succeed in life’s many challenges using learned teamwork, communication, and social skills. Their success will foster a society grounded with a spirit of equality, acceptance of others, and non-violence.
Sustainable change begins with one kid, one classroom, and one school at a time. We chose to start locally to create a ripple effect into other counties and states. Together, we can empower young lives through music education and make great changes in their personal development and our society. Learn more: https://www.thedrakegives.org/