Michelle Edgar has always known she wanted to contribute to philanthropic music organizations, but if you’d asked her in college, she never would have thought she’d start her own charity.
The Northwestern University graduate has been involved with the arts since childhood, training in classical piano since age five and graduating from the Manhattan School of Music. But when she looked for an organization worth her support, her search came up short.
“None were true to what I stood for,” said Edgar. What she does stand for is bringing people together to support underserved communities through all genres of music – be it classical, rock or hip hop – and that’s exactly what Music Unites does.
Edgar said the big idea came to her in 2008 after a special benefit concert for the Rainforest Foundation, a philanthropic organization started by rock phenomenon Sting and his wife Trudy. The show featured well-known artists like James Taylor and Billy Joel, but had classical artists and the artists’ children programmed into it as well.
“It was a totally different way to experience classical music,” said Edgar. “It changed the way I listened to everything.”
From there, the light bulb was lit, and she organized a group that promotes emerging artists while bringing together people from all walks of life. In April 2009, New York City-based Music Unites was born.
“People asked me, ‘Why now, in a recession?’” said Edgar. “But you just have to listen to yourself. I’m a firm believer in pursuing your dreams.”
One of the group’s first major projects was organizing a high school Youth Choir that brings together students from all five boroughs, giving them opportunities to meet and perform with emerging artists.
“It’s for children who might not have the opportunity to learn music,” said Edgar. “In a recession, the music program is one of the first things to be cut. [The artists] can teach the children how to perfect their music.”
Edgar said Music Unites looks for artists from any number of genres but they all have one thing in common: the desire to break through traditional barriers and become mentors and role models.
Acoustic performer John Forte is just one of the many who gave intimate, unplugged performances to raise money for the Youth Choir. Another is Joshua Bell, the celebrated Grammy-winning violinist, who gave a performance in his own apartment to benefit the cause.
“I’m like a child at Christmas when it comes to our events,” said Edgar. “They’re all special for different reasons.”
So What’s Next?
Melanie Fiona, a new artist set to tour with Alicia Keys, will perform in an artist showcase as a part of Music Unites’s Women’s Empower Initiative at Cooper Square Penthouse. The performance is co-sponsored by OK! Magazine, where Edgar has her “day job.”
In the more distant future, Edgar said the group is working to establish a scholarship-based summer camp and accompanying festival, first in New York and then expanding beyond major cities. The group also hopes to explore ways new artists can make a living in this digital age without signing with major record labels.
“It’s my passion,” she said. “I want it to grow beyond New York and take it nationally and internationally.”
How YOU Can Help
Music Unites is always looking for young people to contribute their bright new ideas.
“We’re focusing on outreach – getting on the right blogs and Twitter,” said Edgar. “We’re interested in expanding our team, especially in PR and marketing.”
For more information, check out Music Unites’s Web site.
You can also help Music Unites with its newest funding endeavor. The group is participating in the Pepsi Refresh Project, an online contest that could win Music Unites a much-needed financial boost with your votes. Visit the Pepsi Refresh site to help.
If you’d like to donate directly, use the options on the organization’s donation page.
Michelle Edgar, Founder and Executive Director of Music Unites