Pio Pico Middle School, located at Pico and Arlington, kicked off 2017 in a very special way when it welcomed Motown’s legendary singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson to its campus on Tuesday, January 18, 2017.
Mr. Robinson assisted in the presentation of a $1 million dollar check from Niagra Cares to the Little Kids Rock foundation. Niagra, a bottled water supply company, supports community projects with grants to non-profits like Little Kids Rock, an organization dedicated to bringing music back into schools in over 127 school districts across America. There are 180 programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) alone.
Niagra picked the music program at Pio Pico for the presentation and Little Kids Rock invited Mr. Robinson to participate. In addition, Smokey donated music equipment to Pio Pico including a new Mackie Mixer, 3 Guitar Packs, and a Fender Bass amp. He also gave the students another gift: a “priceless memory” that the students will never forget,,,,he joined the band and singers onstage for a performance of one of his greatest hits, “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”
Randy Rodarte, an enthusiastic and energetic man who clearly loves his calling, has been the music teacher at Pio Pico Middle School since 2009. Robinson’s visit to Pio Pico Middle School had a significant impact on Rodarte.
“My first reaction to Smokey coming to our school was shock. I had already selected Motown as our theme [for the coming year], so when [Little Kids Rock] called, it completely floored me. I must admit I am still floored now.”
Rodarte explained the Pio Pico Middle School Music program is not only about learning how to play music, but the program also offers a lesson in history and culture.
“I realized the best way to start a school year is by formulating a musical theme that not only ties in musical song selection, but big picture concepts and historical significance. Last year was an all Beatles theme, the year before that was an all Richie Valens theme. In the case of Motown, not only does it cover the music of the time but the cultural relevance as well. The music of Motown was the back drop for the Civil Rights movement. That in itself is a teachable moment. Many students do not realize the extreme measures that many Americans had to go to in order to be treated fairly by America.”
“When LKR contacted me they did not mention any thing about Smokey Robinson performing with the students. They hinted about maybe learning a few of his tunes, but I already had “You Really Got A Hold On Me” locked and loaded.”
Rodarte explained that the students who performed with Smokey Robinson were part of the band program called Modern Band.
“The instrumentation is unlike traditional band. There are five basic components: guitar, bass guitar, electric keyboard, drum/percussion and vocals. When I start at the beginning of each school year I have the students themselves select what instrument they want to learn and go from there. I teach 238 students daily at Pio Pico. I have auditions for my traveling band, which is called “Stage Band”, and that was the band that performed with Smokey.”
Rodarte hopes that the experience of making music will have a lasting impact on his students both musically and personally.
“As for my personal hopes for my students, I hope that my students will carry the confidence of their own worth to their community and to themselves. Middle school is a tough time in life, yet these students from this neighborhood held down a tune good enough for a seasoned musical veteran like Smokey Robinson. I also hope my students can dig deeper into the historical impact that Motown had on America. The self-determination that people like Berry Gordy had for a marginalized music and art scene was pushed to the center of American Culture because it was too good to be ignored. That might be all too much for them now, but as they get older and think more critically, I hope they can somehow put the pieces together.”
“I had each student write thank you letters to Smokey Robinson, and after reading them the students and I really now understand how much impact this all was. They are beyond amazed. My students have had a life-changing event that they will carry with them and hopefully pass on to the next generation.”
The Pio Pico Middle School students have even more amazing musical adventures in store for this school year. Rodarte explained, “For the remainder of the school year we will dig deeper into the Motown bag and culminate with a performance at the Roxy in Hollywood.” Exciting things ahead for Pio Pico Middle School!
Pio Pico Middle School is located at 1512 S. Arlington Avenue, 90019. Miranda Conston-Raoof is the Principal of Pio Pico Middle School. For more information regarding Pio Pico Middle School go to piopicoms.org
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.