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Nonprofit trains young singers in Philadelphia and beyond

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A lot of young people are talented singers and could benefit from private music lessons, which are expensive, and that's where a nonprofit called ArtSmart comes in. ArtSmart offers one-on-one, tuition-free music lessons. It's a program that was launched in Philadelphia and is now lifting voices in cities across the country. Reporter Buffy Gorrilla introduces us to two singers.

BUFFY GORRILLA, BYLINE: In 2020, Journae Barnes was a freshman at Franklin Learning Center in Philadelphia. All her classes were online, including choir. It was hard to stay excited for school until she saw a post from her choir teacher about ArtSmart.

JOURNAE BARNES: You guys should really audition for this ArtSmart program. And I actually just took the chance and followed through with it.

GORRILLA: Barnes comes from a musical family, and she grew up singing in church but never had formal training. So with the confidence that comes from knowing you can do multiple takes, Barnes submitted this video, which now makes her cringe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARNES: (Singing) He's going to fulfill every promise. Don't give up on God.

GORRILLA: Lucas DeJesus is an ArtSmart mentor. He watched Barnes' video.

LUCAS DEJESUS: I remember your audition specifically. I could see the passion coming through your face, and I remember being in love with it because it was so authentic.

GORRILLA: Barnes was paired with DeJesus when she landed a spot on the program.

BARNES: I kind of just hoped to have someone who was really passionate about what they were doing and someone that was willing to meet me where I was at.

GORRILLA: Sixteen-year-old Neveah Fires (ph) describes herself as shy, even though she's in two bands. Like Barnes, she auditioned as a freshman, but she had to audition in person.

NEVEAH FIRES: I was nervous, I'm not going to lie.

GORRILLA: She's a huge fan of Disney musicals and sang "Part Of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid." Fires has worked with her mentor, Andrew Monath, since last year. ArtSmart puts a lot of effort into matching students with their mentors.

NEVEAH: I feel like I had to build a relationship with Mr. Andrew. I learned to kind of, like, try to trust myself. I think it's just learning to become comfortable with who I have because they're really just here to help me out.

Let's do "Part Of Your World."

ANDREW MONATH: All right, "Part Of Your World." Stand up nice and tall.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO PLAYING)

GORRILLA: Now, once a week, she gets to practice with a professional.

NEVEAH: (Singing) Bright young women sick of swimming, ready to stand and ready to know what the people know.

GORRILLA: Neveah Fires has more music in her future. She still has a couple more years in high school, so more time to keep singing. Journae Barnes has her sights set on college.

BARNES: The plan is to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I just want to, you know, use my voice as a tool and also to teach.

GORRILLA: There's an audition. She's considering dusting off her go-to audition song one more time.

BARNES: (Singing) God is able to do just what He said He would do. He's going to fulfill every promise to you. Don't give up on God 'cause He won't give up on you.

GORRILLA: And ArtSmart will welcome new talent next year ready to put their voices to work.

For NPR News, I'm Buffy Gorrilla in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUOS ON MARS' "SPIN FREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Buffy Gorrilla