First lady Michelle Obama was in the audience Thursday night when Stevie Wonder played to a packed Kennedy Center. He went with one goal in mind: to raise money for Washington's Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
On stage before the concert began, Principal Rory Pullins told the audience that although Ellington is a D.C. public school, it takes far more money per student to provide both an academic and performing arts education. The cost of instruments and practice rooms, oil paints and canvas, are added to what all schools pay for teachers, books and blackboard chalk.
Wonder has been a longtime supporter of The Duke Ellington School. He believes every child should have the chance to develop his or her natural talents through education in the performing arts. As a gifted pianist who made his debut on the world stage at 11, and had his first No. 1 hit at just 13 years old, he knows there is young talent that just needs a little help to succeed.
Thursday night's concert marked the second time Wonder has answered the call from The Ellington School. A 1995 concert for the school brought in more than $1 million. Pullens said that was a needed boost for the school's coffers, and he hopes to have topped that figure Thursday night.
Wonder has known Duke Ellington School founder Peggy Cooper Cafritz since they were both teenagers. Like Cafritz, he believes many young people never get a chance to learn to develop their talent and creativity because private lessons can be too expensive for many families to provide.
Cafritz's goal when the school opened over three decades ago was to reach those kids who show talent and interest in the performing arts, particularly those from families that might not be able to afford classes for their children.