Local Hero: Billy Mitchell

Billy Mitchell

"We want to develop music programs to let kids know that [music] is not a complicated, magical issue. It should be accessible to everyone."

Billy Mitchell's passion for jazz music has earned him acclaim from his peers and taken him to destinations all over the world. When he realized that many young, talented musicians in his own community were being deprived of the opportunity to pursue the same passion, he resolved to start a program that would help them find their own success in music.

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Born in New York, Mitchell is a graduate of Morehouse College ('68) and a product of the 1960s civil rights movement. As a professional musician, he has performed internationally, and his solo recordings have placed high on different jazz music charts throughout the past three decades. Mitchell is currently the head music director of the Music Performance Academy, an international music network based in Alhambra, CA.

During the 1990s, when he served as a music judge for different talent competitions and auditions, Billy noted that many talented African-American and Latino children were losing access to music programs and workshops that should have prepared them for music competitions and scholarship opportunities. To remedy that discrepancy, Billy formed his own workshop for kids in his community: The Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy, also known simply as SAPPA.

SAPPA began operation in 2002. The program's overt goal was to teach young, talented musicians to hone their musical skills in a professional atmosphere; however, it's greater, underlying success came from building character, self-esteem, and discipline in participating students while encouraging their aspirations for excellence. Other advocacy groups took notice of Billy's workshop, and SAPPA eventually partnered with the Music Center Education Division, LAUSD's Beyond the Bell program, and the NAACP ACT-SO program.

SAPPA eventually added a more intensive music workshop program, as well as a preschool program. Each program focuses on consistent, personal outreach to areas throughout greater Los Angeles that contain the highest percentages of at?risk youngsters who lack access to music programs and costly private lessons. The workshops now bring age-appropriate, general musical instruction to almost 1000 students every year. SAPPA's programs have earned Billy several awards, including the Pasadena Arts Council's "Gold Crown" award and America West's "Jazz for the Next Generation" award.

Billy plans to continue his advocacy in the coming year by serving as the executive director of the newly formed Watts-Willowbrook Music Conservatory, infusing the South Los Angeles community with new musical opportunities. He hopes to see the complete formation of a Watts youth symphony by the end of 2010.

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