The National Music Foundation

The National Music Foundation made its home in Lenox, Massachusetts from 1992 to 2000.

The Foundation’s vision was to create a National Music Center on its 63-acre campus. The center was to include a retirement community for musicians; a museum, library and archive of American music; and educational programs that focused on American music.

The organization was founded by Joey Dee and Lois Lee of Joey Dee and the Starliters, with their friends Judith and Allen Haimes. Dick Clark served as Chairman of the Board for most of the Foundation’s existence. Members of the board included Johnny Cash, Jessye Norman and Hammer. Gloria Pennington was the Foundation’s President and CEO; Thomas Heany was the Director of Programming.

After a nation-wide search for a suitable property, the Foundation chose the campus of the former Lenox Boys School in Lenox. The campus was located close to the center of town. It included fourteen buildings in varying states of repair, including two theaters, a library, a Berkshire cottage, dormitories and private homes, on sixty three acres.

The Foundation presented several seasons of concerts using both theaters. Performers included Kenny Rogers, Travis Tritt, Bela Fleck, Sonny Rollins, Bill Monroe, Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, John Raitt, John Hall, the Paul Winter Consort, The Mavericks, the David Grisman Quintet, David Byrne, Emmylou Harris and Terrence Simien and the Mallet Playboys. The Foundation’s mission embraced all types of American music.

In addition to the concert series, the Foundation created the Berkshire Music Festival. The Festival was a county-wide celebration of music, held each May for three years. For one weekend, musical performances happened all over Berkshire County in restaurants, libraries, coffee shops, churches, stores, theaters and homes. Music was available everywhere you went. The Berkshire Music Festival showcased local musicians and marked the beginning of the Berkshires’ performance season.

The Foundation’s Shared Heritage programs presented musicians in intimate settings that often included opportunities for members of the audience to meet with the performers and ask them questions. Shared Heritage also provided opportunities for young aspiring players to study with professional musicians. Performers in Shared Heritage programs ranged from the great soprano Licia Albanese to banjo masters Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick.

The National Music Foundation even brought music to the State House in Boston, where they presented an afternoon concert featuring an up-and-coming bluegrass phenomenon named Cody Kilby and jazz legend Randy Weston. The event was hosted by Dick Clark.

One of the highlights of the Foundation’s programming was its America Music Education Initiative. Through this program, the Foundation made cash awards to teachers who used American music in their lesson plans. The lessons covered music, history, geography, English, and a wide range of other subjects. A panel of distinguished educators with expertise in a wide range of musical genres and educational settings evaluated the lesson plans. Those chosen by the judges were posted on line to serve as a free resource for teachers everywhere to use in their own classrooms. The initiative was spear-headed by Lee Berk of Berklee College of Music and Fred Bramante, Founder of Daddy’s Junky Music and long-serving member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education.

Ultimately, the broad scope of the mission and the cost and effort involved in maintaining and developing a 63 acre campus proved too much for the Foundation. The property was sold to Shakespeare & Co., another nonprofit, and the organization relocated to Orlando, Florida. The American Music Education Initiative continued for another two years, but ultimately the Foundation ceased operation.

(by Thomas Heany)

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