“I love America,” the Oscar winning actor Jamie Foxx says. “We all love our country. But we’re weirdos when it comes to the things that matter. We might be the dumbest [expletive] I’ve ever seen in my life when it comes to education.”
Foxx, 43, has found himself a soap box. He’s dismayed at the number of schools that are having to slash arts education in this down economy, dismayed largely because he is a living example of what arts education can do for someone.
“My grandmother was a nursery school teacher for 30 years. She was big on music. She had a lady come over from Dallas, and she said ‘Use our house, and teach our kids’ music.’ It wasn’t just about the piano lessons. It was the fellowship, the discipline, the brain power that you get out of music.
“We’re just a weird country when it comes to basic things. You can’t make education the first thing you cut…
“I went to college on a classical piano scholarship. My grandmother made me practice one full hour a day. Every day. Man. I thought all she wanted was for me not to have ANY fun. Next thing you know, you have a career in music. Now, not everybody’s going to go on and be Mozart or Michael Jackson. But music makes you smarter. I know that music helped my motor skills. I know it helped me with my reading. It helps with your memorization, all these things you need in school.”
The makers of the documentary “Thunder Soul” got Foxx’s attention because of what a music education has meant to him. It’s why the chart-topping singer, stund-up comic and movie star threw his producer’s weight on the film, showing in select cities, a documentary about one inspiring high school band teacher who brought Houston’s Kashmere High School to glory and changed the aspirations of a generation of young black kids there.
“I had never heard of Kashmere,” says Foxx, who grew up in Terrell, Texas. “I wasn’t in high school when they were a big phenomenon, you know. The ‘70s. When they gave me a copy of the movie and I saw it in my office, I said, ‘I don’t know what I can do to get this out there. But whatever I can do to help, getting people to see this film, I’m in.’ It’s fantastic.”
“Thunder Soul” has been playing to ecstatic reviews, a film praised for its “righteousness” and it’s “smoking hot music” (Tom Long, Detroit News). It catches up with former students of that teacher who made them who they are today. They stage a reunion concert in tribute to him.”
Foxx may someday make a feature film on Conrad “Prof” Johnson and the day he brought funk to the Kashmere High School jazz band. But for now, he’s content to put his name behind a movie and a cause he believes in – “Thunder Soul” and music education.
“Don’t you need a good feeling, right about now? That’s what I hope people take away from this movie. That, and that we need music in the schools. Like I say, you don’t have to have a career in it to get something great out of it. But you won’t want to do it like I did it. Man, after all my grandma put into me learning the piano, that was a hard day, telling her I was telling jokes for a living.”