Band Makeover by Queen Latifah

Photo by Sony Pictures Television

The Queen Latifah Show surprised the director and members of the Foshay Learning Center band in Los Angeles by coordinating a recording session with Alicia Keys, remodeling their band room and donating new instruments. The heartwarming segment recently aired in the 2013 series premiere of the now highly successful daytime talk show.

“It was an out-of-body experience for all of us, for me and the kids,” says band director Vince Womack. “It was a week before graduation. That’s some of the worst times, and you’re preparing kids to leave, and it’s really emotional. Meeting Queen Latifah and all the other surprises was a numbing experience. I felt like a dishrag that had been wrung out from an emotional perspective.”

Back in June 2012, Sony contacted Womack offering his band students a field trip for a tour of the studios and a professional recording session for the band. Once there, Latifah surprised them and introduced them to Keys, who they performed and recorded with. The Foshay Learning Center had been chosen based on suggestion from the Los Angeles Philharmonic education department and phone interviews.

“I felt intimidated playing right next to Alicia Keys, but she was very nice about it, and she was very encouraging and helpful,” says flute player Kellie Lucero. “Queen Latifah was really great. She talked to us a lot, and she was just really great in praising our teacher, and she really made us feel amazing. It was a great self-esteem boost.”

Little did Womack and his students know that a crew was hard at work installing hardwood floors and new cabinets, painting and bringing in a new set of Yamaha instruments to their band room. When they returned to campus, they were shocked to find Latifah there to introduce the additional surprise.

“I just remember crying because it was one of the most beautiful things to ever happen and a great way to end high school,” Lucero says. “We don’t have much money, and our program wasn’t doing so well. The floor and cabinets were banged up, we didn’t have many instruments, so it was just an emotional moment for all of us. I remember our teacher was like crying because he was so happy.”

Foshay is a K-12 school in South Central Los Angeles. The music program services more than 300 students. Sixty-five made the special trip to Sony and were sworn to secrecy until Latifah’s show was picked up and aired.

Womack says Latifah and Sony’s generosity has been invaluable for the band. “We sorely needed additional instruments; we just didn’t have enough to go around,” Womack says. “Queen Latifah—her mom was a teacher. I just think it’s really huge of her and Sony to choose to do these kinds of things. It’s had such a positive impact on this community, and I’m grateful for them for what they’ve done.”

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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