Rising Chicago music stars to perform at benefit concert for Merit

The benefit concert features The JuJu Exchange, among who are Grammy Award winners, Pitchfork Festival performers and session musicians who have worked with Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean and Ed Sheeran, among others. Several other nationally-known surprise guests are also expected to appear at the event.

– City Winery Chicago will host the event on November 28, and proceeds will benefit Merit School of Music, a 39-year-old community music school that provides music education to Chicago youth. Many of the performers are Merit alumni and reflect the diversity of students that attend the school.


A new generation of Chicago musicians is on the rise, and its impact is being felt throughout the jazz, hip-hop and soul music scenes. Some of the music industry’s biggest stars, such as Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean and Ed Sheeran, have been tapping the talents of young Chicagoans, and a large cohort of them are ready to break big on their own.

For many of these rising stars, Merit School of Music (Merit) can be found at the origin of their musical journeys. The nationally accredited music school has been teaching young Chicagoans jazz and classical music for nearly 40 years, and many of its alumni have gone on to launch successful professional and musical careers, including several Grammy Award winners.

On Tuesday, November 28, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., City Winery Chicago will host a benefit concert for Merit that brings together several of the school’s most notable alumni. Proceeds from the concert will benefit Merit students, some 70% of whom receive music education at little to no cost.


Star studded
The JuJu Exchange will headline the benefit concert. The jazz-fusion group features Nico Segal, Julian Reid, Everett Reid and Lane Beckstrom. Segal is a Merit alumnus who is best known for his album “Surf” by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, as well as performing with and producing for Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, J. Cole, Ed Sheeran and more. The JuJu Exchange has been touring to support its debut album “Exchange,” but is returning to Chicago to support Merit, which Segal said was instrumental in launching his career.

“We’re proud to be part of this charitable effort that not only helps children obtain scholarships and mentorships for music education, but will inspire them to be the best they can be, musically and otherwise,” Segal said. “It is important for us to give back to both Chicago and Merit School of Music, both of which have nourished us and helped us achieve our own musical dreams.”

Several nationally-known surprise musical guests are expected to perform at the concert, in addition to the headlining act.


Bridging the gap
For many years, Chicago Public Schools have faced significant financial challenges, often leading to the reduction or elimination of staff and resources for in-school and after-school arts programs, which has limited students’ access to music education. The programs of Merit School of Music — of which a significant portion are provided to students at little or no cost in their school or neighborhood to remove financial and geographic barriers — are helping bridge the gap. In many cases, Merit provides participating students with a safe space for learning and musical, personal development – off of the streets and away from potential danger.

“Chicago has, in its young people, an abundance of talent and musical promise, but unfortunately many young people are forced to give up their dreams because they lack access or the financial means to study music,” said Charles Grode, president and executive director of Merit School of Music. “Merit is devoted to helping them achieve their personal, musical aspirations by removing the many barriers that often stand in their way.”

Each year, Merit School of Music offers a continuum of programs across the spectrum of musical genres to nearly 5,000 students across the city. More than one-third of the school’s annual budget of $5.6 million is dedicated to direct student support and scholarships. Since its establishment in 1979, in response to an initial wave of reductions in Chicago Public School arts programs, the school has fostered some of the country’s best best-known musicians.


Venerable venue
“This benefit concert, generously hosted by City Winery Chicago, and featuring some of the most talented musicians Chicago has ever seen, will go a long way in helping us achieve our financial goals for the year,” Grode explained. “The proceeds will directly benefit Merit’s students, enabling us to provide affordable high-quality instruments for our students, as well as coaching and private instruction from Merit’s esteemed faculty.”

Hosting the event will be City Winery Chicago (1200 W. Randolph Street). Libby Brickson, program director with the Chicago-based winery and event venue, said the company jumped at the chance to work with Merit and do its part in supporting Chicago’s musical youth.

“Merit School of Music is a renowned Chicago institution that has done a tremendous job in educating so many of our citizens and future leaders,” Brickson said. “We’re honored to offer up City Winery as a place where Chicagoans can meet to not only celebrate the school’s success with some of its most influential alumni, but to also help raise funds and ensure that the cultural vibrancy of our city continues in the future.”


About Merit School of Music
Chicago’s Merit School of Music is a nationally accredited music school helping young people transform their lives by removing barriers to high-quality music education. Our 125 passionate and experienced teaching artists engage nearly 5,000 students annually through sustained introductory, preparatory, and conservatory level music instruction – including classical and jazz, and featuring band, voice, and orchestra, as well as guitar and piano. Merit’s comprehensive array of course offerings is distinguished by two signature programs, beginning with our community-based program, Merit Music In Communities, and building toward the intensive, audition-based Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory. Thanks to the dedication of Merit’s faculty, staff, board, donors and parents, nearly 70 percent of our students receive need-based aid. This enables motivated students, regardless of economic circumstance, to develop their talent and to use Merit as a springboard for achieving their full musical and personal potential, with virtually 100 percent of our conservatory graduates going on to conservatory, college, or university. To learn more about Merit School of Music, visit meritmusic.org or call 312.786.9428.


About The JuJu Exchange
With one foot in jazz and the other foot in everything else, The JuJu Exchange is a musical partnership of childhood friends who came up through Chicago Public School music programs. Nico Segal, Julian and Everett Reid, and Lane Beckstrom use The JuJu as a way to build off of their past experiences in order to make a genre-bending style of music that looks to the future while dealing with the problems of the present. Drawing from hip-hop, jazz, classical and pop music, The JuJu will take audience where anything is possible. To learn more, please visit: http://www.thejuju.life/


About City Winery Chicago
City Winery Chicago a unique facility that pairs a fully functioning winery with fine dining, as well as cultural events that vary from intimate concerts, to food and wine classes. It offers high-end, combined culinary and cultural experiences to customers who are passionate about food, arts and music. To learn more, please visit: http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/

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