PLAY ON: A Benefit Concert to Support Music Education



Doors: 5:00pm | Show: 7:00 pm

Join Merit School of Music for a special concert benefiting equal access to music education. Merit alum and Grammy award-winning musician, composer, producer, and music director Peter CottonTale will headline the 4th Annual Play On concert.


Peter Wilkins, better known as Peter CottonTale, has been making waves in Chicago for over a decade enriching the music of our “hometown heroes” like Jamila Woods, Vic Mensa, Chance the Rapper, and The Social Experiment. But Peter has a sound and voice that’s all his own, with a “nuanced blend of neosoul, gospel…R&B tenderness, pop moodiness, and sensuality to create atmospheres that feel divine” (Leor Galil, The Chicago Reader).

His accolades include a GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Album (Coloring Book – 2016 with Chance the Rapper), a #8 song on Apple Music’s Gospel Charts (CATCH – 2019 Album), and a Top 25 Billboard Gospel Airplay Chart (Pray for Real – 2019 Single). Peter also wrote and produced the song “Together” for Google’s Year in Search campaign in collaboration with Chance the Rapper, Cynthia Erivo, the Chicago Children’s Choir, Matt Jones (of Re-Collective Orchestra), Rachel Robinson, and Jamila Woods. Moreover, Peter has an impressive roster of shows and appearances, including as Music Director for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, The 59th Annual Grammy Awards, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Peter CottonTale’s first solo album, CATCH, was released in 2020. Beyond his solo work, he’s collaborated with many artists over the past decade, with a focus on Chicago artists but also others from around the country and the world as a composer, producer, and music director, as well as a featured artist primarily on keys.

Peter often mentions that we all talk a lot about what inspires us. He works to put that into music. Through the music he makes, and through his leadership in the studio when working with other artists, Peter always hopes to make people feel free to express what they believe and who they are.

Ramsey Lewis Headshot


Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr. was born in 1935 and given piano lessons at age four. In 1956, he formed the Ramsey Lewis Jazz Trio and signed with Chess Records in 1957 for the Trio’s first album. Lewis earned his first gold record, as well as a Grammy award for Best Jazz Performance, for their swinging version of Dobie Gray’s hit “The In Crowd”, eventually receiving a total of three Grammy Awards and five gold records. His major hits include “Wade in the Water” and “Hang On Sloopy.”

Throughout his illustrious career, Lewis, who is a NEA Jazz Master, joined forces with countless other artists to create new and innovative music. He had a daily radio show, The Ramsey Lewis Morning Show in Chicago and a weekly syndicated jazz show. From 1990 to 1999, he hosted BET’s Jazz Central. He was named artistic director of the Ravinia Jazz Festival in 1992.

Lewis, who cared deeply for Merit, was a valued member of Merit’s National Advisory Board, the 2017 recipient of Merit’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a dear friend of Alice S. Pfaelzer, one of Merit’s founders. Lewis passed away on September 12, 2022 at the age of 87. Lewis lived in Chicago. He is survived by his wife Janet Tamillow Lewis and as well as seven children, 12 grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

Julius Tucker Headshot


Julius Tucker is a pianist, composer, bandleader, and producer. His musical voice encompasses a multitude of genres, from jazz to house music. He is especially known for his complex sensitivities and agile fluidity on the piano and keyboard which have become his signature style. Tucker gravitated toward jazz piano while in middle school at Whitney Young Magnet H.S., developing a love for its freedom of musical expression. He continued his studies concurrently at Merit School of Music where he gained invaluable insight into developing his own voice and style on the piano. He is honored to perform at Play On in memory of the late, great Ramsey Lewis by performing “Watercolors” by Ramey Lewis from his album Songs from the Heart: Ramsey Plays Ramsey.


The Honors Jazz Combo, under the direction of Alex Beltran, is Merit’s premier jazz performing ensemble comprised of the Conservatory’s most advanced student jazz musicians. Students audition for the program on an annual basis and hail from all over the greater Chicagoland area.


Jam Sponsors


David P. Thomas

Morgan Lewis


Heritage Auctions

Cadence Sponsors

The Dobbs Group

Seyfarth Shaw LLP

MEDIA Sponsor

VENUE Sponsor

City Winery Chicago Merit Sponsor Logo

Raffle Sponsors

Cooper Groove

El Che 

Four Seasons Chicago

Joffrey Ballet 

Lifeline Theatre 

MachMachines Music 

Space Time Sounds 

Steppenwolf Theatre 

TimeLine Theatre 

Contact us to discuss customizing benefits to your sponsorship goals.

Call Emma Harmon, Merit’s Individual Giving Manager, at 312-267-4480 or email [email protected] with questions or for more information.