Do Savannnah

Friends of Ben Tucker starts instrument donation drive for Savannah students

  • Ben Tucker plays at a “Night in Old Savannah” on Broughton Street in the 1990s. The Friends of Ben Tucker nonprofit has started a used instrument drive to gift music to local children and carry on the late Savannah musician’s legacy. (Savannah Morning News file photo)

Friends of Ben Tucker starts instrument donation drive for Savannah students

10 Oct 2017

Keep the Music Playing is a new initiative that seeks to continue the legacy of one of Savannah’s most prolific community activists by putting music directly in the hands of those who need it the most.

There was a vacuum created in the wake of jazz bassist and community activist Ben Tucker’s tragic death in 2013. Tucker not only helped revive jazz music in Savannah, but also was instrumental in a slew of community outreach programs.

Friends of Ben Tucker, a community-based nonprofit, was set up to continue Tucker’s philanthropic work that helped bind communities of different races and backgrounds.

On Oct. 14, the nonprofit will begin a new program aimed at enhancing the lives of the youngest members of our community while also perpetuating Tucker’s legacy. Keep the Music Playing is an effort by the nonprofit, which has teamed up with the Savannah-Chatham Public School System with support from Sonata Music Program, Coastal Jazz Association, Portman’s Music and several other organizations to gift music to children in the region.

“We started the nonprofit because Ben had a very active life in the community of Savannah,” Friends of Ben Tucker board President Barbara Essig said. “We are dedicated to preserving his legacy by providing quality programming for children, individuals and families to reach their fullest potential.”

The new initiative is simple, but could have lasting impact. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 14, instrument donations will be taken at Portman’s Music on Abercorn Street. The staff at Portman’s will refurbish the instruments, if needed. Teachers from East Broad Elementary and Otis J. Brock Elementary will then take the instruments for kids in their classes.

“We learned through another music program in Savannah that children whose parents do not have good credit, or do not own a home, cannot rent an instrument,” Essig said. “So you may have a music program in your school, but because of your parents’ situation and income, you can’t get an instrument. This idea is to keep music playing for children who otherwise could not get an instrument.”

The overall goal for the program in the coming two years is to attract 200 new children into music programs within the local school system.

“It’s an ambitious target,” Essig said. “We know that there’s a need for at least 200 children in the school district, in Title I schools, who want to play an instrument who can’t gain access to them. Just think, the benefits of learning music at an early age. It enhances areas of the brain that deal with memory and regular retention. Those types of behaviors are helpful with children of all aspects.

“I’d rather put an instrument in the hands of a child than a gun.”

According to study released in 2014 by the the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, primary school students of disadvantaged backgrounds who participate in an in-school music program are far more likely to succeed academically.

The study, which focused on a group of impoverished children in Los Angeles over the course of two years, found that “children engaged in a music program developed stronger brain encoding of speech … and showed increases in reading scores.” The program also showed “that music provided auditory enrichment that counteracts some of the biological adversities of growing up in poverty.”

Friends of Ben Tucker are hoping to continue the donation program year-round. For now, interested parties need simply stop by Portman’s on Oct. 14 with any used or new instruments they no longer need. The instrument does not need to be in perfect condition. They do prefer the instrument be small enough to be carried into the store. Large pianos, for instance, are too expensive to transport.

“What I realized was so many of us have used instruments in our attic,” Essig said, adding that she will donate a violin that belonged to her granddaughter.

“The other challenge is, sometimes our community has been asked so many times for help, with the hurricanes and other reasons,” Essig continued. “This is something you don’t have to go out and buy, or give money. You can just look in your attic, garage or closet and pull that old instrument out and bring it down and donate it.”


What: Keep the Music Playing

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 14

Where: Portman’s Music, 7650 Abercorn St.

Why: Instrument donation event to benefit local schoolchildren