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Sunday, 3 January, 2010 12:48 PM

White House Music Series: CMA Helps Bring Music and History Together for Nashville Students

Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton

Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss & Union Station perform during an event celebrating Country Music in the East Room of the White House, July 21, 2009.

By Bob Doerschuk
© 2009 CMA Close Up News Service

On Friday, July 3, Lynn Adelman, Assistant Director of the W. O. Smith Nashville Community Music School, informed Jonah Rabinowitz, the school’s Executive Director, that he’d better take the call she was about to transfer to his phone.

The woman on the line, a member of the White House staff, informed him that President Barack Obama and the First Lady would host the second stage of its ongoing music series which celebrates the arts and demonstrates the importance of arts education. The event would focus on Country Music and the W. O. Smith School was invited to bring a group of students to attend an afternoon educational workshop in the State Dining Room with Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley that would precede the evening show in the East Room.

“My first response was, ‘This is unbelievable, this is fantastic, but can you guys help us at all with expenses?’” Rabinowitz recalled. “Their response was, ‘No, but the invitation is open to you and we need to know in a couple of days whether you’ll accept it.’”

Clearly, Rabinowitz couldn’t say no. So to address the question of funding travel and accommodations, he called a member of the school’s Advisory Board, Steve Buchanan, Senior VP, Media and Entertainment, Gaylord Entertainment.

As President-Elect of the CMA Board of Directors, Buchanan knew what to do. “Given our Keep the Music Playing initiative,” he said, referring to CMA’s program to help fund music education in Metro Nashville Public Schools, “it seemed to me that this was an opportunity for CMA to have a tremendous impact on these kids’ lives.”

“This is a one-time opportunity that is a natural fit for our campaign of supporting music education for public school students and providing musical experiences that they otherwise would not be able to enjoy,” agreed CMA CEO Tammy Genovese. “These outstanding young musicians are the future of the music industry, and what a meaningful lesson they’ll learn about the power of following your dreams and believing that anything is possible.”

CMA underwrote all travel costs involved in busing 40 W.O. Smith music students and four chaperones from Nashville to Washington, D.C., and back. (A fifth chaperone, Colleen Dowd, VP, HCA, and a member of the W.O. Smith School Board of Directors, was already in Washington on business.) A gala sendoff was arranged at the school on the evening of Sunday, July 19; the bus arrived the next morning, after which the students visited museums that lined the National Mall before checking into the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center, where rooms had been deeply discounted on their behalf. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store provided gold cards that were redeemed for two free meals during the trip.

The next day began with visits to the office of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) and the gallery at the House of Representatives while it was in session. Then, following lunch in the House cafeteria, they made the nearly two-mile trek to the White House on foot. “We did that on purpose,” Rabinowitz said. “It was important to get a feel for the pulse of the city.”

On arrival, they were escorted into the State Dining Room. Shortly after that, Krauss and Paisley took their seats on stools before a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln. Following an introduction by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, each played two acoustic songs, Paisley working solo and Krauss playing fiddle with backup from Union Station guitarist Dan Tyminski. They were then interviewed by Jay Orr, VP of Museum Programs, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and took questions from among the 120 students attending from W. O. Smith and other invited schools.

That evening, with WSM/Nashville broadcast personality and Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs emceeing, Krauss and Paisley performed with their bands, and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charley Pride sang, before President Obama, his family and invited guests, including Genovese and CMA Senior VP Bobette Dudley. The show was streamed live on and recorded, along with other highlights of the day, to air on GAC. Hosted by Storme Warren, “Country at the White House” premiered on Aug. 15 and will repeat 8 PM/ET Sunday, Nov. 8. Stubbs also reported on the event through a radio special, “Mr. Stubbs Goes to Washington,” broadcast over WSM-AM Nashville. Episodes from this program, along with photos, Webisodes and blogs by Stubbs, Paisley and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, are available at

“We at GAC are huge believers in the work of W.O. Smith,” said Ed Hardy, GAC President, and VP of the W.O. Smith School Board. “Producing a one-hour special on GAC highlighting the Country Music events at the White House, including the W.O. Smith students’ trip to the event, will help spread the word about this vital community asset and the benefits of arts education.”

In a blog (also posted on, Paisley recounted the experience of closing his set with “Welcome to the Future,” whose story of overcoming racial intolerance bore a special relevance to the evening. After tipping his hat to President Obama, Paisley wrote, “I came off and just started bawling because it was so emotional for me to sing those words. He came to me and said, ‘If I could sing like you,’ which was really cool. And then he sort of looked me in the eye and he said, ‘Wonderful, wonderful words.’ And I said, ‘Thank you, sir. I meant them.’”

As for the W.O. Smith students, they enjoyed a reflective afternoon of their own, culminating in a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, after which they boarded their bus for a night in Manassas, Va., before completing the trip back home. Like Paisley, Patricia Dinning, going into her senior year at the Nashville School of the Arts, found her Washington visit illuminating as well as relevant to her dreams of pursuing a history major in college.

“I was inspired and amazed,” she said. “And it really amplified my feelings toward history, because music has history in itself, and that history goes into America’s history. It all connects and helps to inspire how we all approach the future.”

Founded in 1984, the W.O. Smith Nashville Community Music School was created for the purpose of making quality music instruction available to talented, interested, deserving children from low income families at the nominal fee of 50 cents a lesson. Instruction is provided by a 160-member volunteer faculty of area musicians from many elements of the Nashville music scene including studio musicians, symphony players, college professors, public school teachers, church musicians, private teachers and university students, who each donate up to four hours a week teaching their students.

The school serves more than 600 students, ages 6 to 18, representing academic schools from across Metro Davidson County and Middle Tennessee. It offers introductory classes for pre-instrumentalists, individual and group lessons in all band and orchestra instruments, piano, guitar and voice. A nonprofit educational institution, the W. O. Smith Music School also provides computer assisted instruction in music fundamentals and theory, classes in composition, music technology and recording.

“The continuing generosity of CMA for our city’s children is allowing W.O. Smith Music School students to be a part of this important experience, one that we know will last a lifetime,” Rabinowitz said. “As always, CMA provides important leadership in the music education of children in Metro Nashville Schools. We are grateful to CMA as well as GAC, Gaylord and Cracker Barrel for their support of our students.”

Tune into GAC on Dec. 16, 17 and 28 for the special “Country at the White House,” which documents this historic event with host Storme Warren. Visit to watch a sneak peek and browse photos from the event.


Photo credit: Karen Hicks / CMA

Students at the W. O. Smith School prepare to board bus for Washington, D.C. is Detroit's exclusive media outlet for this syndicated weekly column!




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Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer.