- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Asa Deshields could become as successful as Sean “Diddy” Combs, of sorts.

A saxophonist and drummer, she’s learning how to read, record and produce music, and she’s studying music theory and grasping what it would take to start her own record label. (Bad Girl Entertainment, perhaps!)

Classmate Daniel Ross is on a similar track, except he’s already made up his mind to relocate to Spain and start some type of small business.

Daniel and Asa are learning the ropes of the music and entertainment industry by participating in a program called Beats, Books and Hooks in Prince George’s County.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education (FAME) Inc., the program exposes a diverse group of middle and high schoolers to professionals already in the industry, as well as youths who share their interests. Classes — and productions the students pull together — are held in college settings, at Bowie State University and the University of Maryland at College Park.

Reared in the Pentecostal Church, Asa said she’s under “no illusions” about where music will take her, and she’s still learning the relationship between church and music, as well as how the entertainment industry works.

“I started young playing, in the church,” she said. “But no matter what your skills or profession are, you’ve got to know that every business is about business.

“You’ve got to love the music you make and be passionate to be good,” she said. “And you’ve got to be about the business of your business.”

A young lady rocking percussion and a sax is an extraordinary thing.

A young lady being taught — and learning — how to fine-tune the business and technological aspects of the music industry in an educational environment is a beautiful thing.

In the FAME program at Bowie State, students learn in state-of-the-art audio-visual studios, where they can record and edit projects, just as Diddy and other producers and artists do.

FAME students also perform and get to rub shoulders and play instruments with some of industry headliners, thanks to the vision of the program’s founder and president Toni Lewis.

“It’s all about the youths,” says the high-energy Ms. Lewis, who founded FAME a decade ago. “We’re educationally driven and student motivated. We’re very grateful the county, parents, donors and staff have felt the same way.”

The Beats, Books and Hooks classes have wrapped for the summer, and several middle schoolers said they hope to return.

In the meantime, FAME’s really big show is set for July 24 at the Newton White Mansion in Mitchellville, where tobacco farming and the sounds of dairy cows filled the air generations ago.

The event celebrates FAME and its mission to be “all about the youths,” with local ABC News anchor Leon Harris co-chairing FAME’s 10th Anniversary and Awards Celebration.

Honorees include County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip. And with pianist Nat Adderly Jr. co-chairing, it’s easy to entice youths into swaying, tapping their feet and thinking to themselves, “Whoa. The future me.”

“We aim to teach the arts in a different way,” Ms. Lewis said. “We like to help open up the children’s hearts, minds, eyes and ears. To do that in a college setting, helps lead them onto the right path.”

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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