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N.C. native Ben Folds founds initiative to provide music lessons for children

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Ben Folds speaks with North Carolina's First Lady, Kristin Cooper, at the Keys For Kids livestream at Osceola Recording Studio in Raleigh, NC on Monday, July 11, 2022.

Ben Folds' charitable initiative Keys For Kids is supporting seven non-profit organizations in North Carolina to provide little-to-no-cost keyboards and music lessons to children.

Born and raised in Winston-Salem, Folds is a singer-songwriter and the frontman of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five, which was formed in Chapel Hill. Now, at the age of 55, Folds said he has the desire to give back to North Carolina.

“Essentially what we're doing is connecting dots, cheerleading, raising money and being involved in any way we can, but the important thing to know is that these organizations already exist," he said. "And without them, a lot of kids wouldn't be getting access to music early on."

Keys For Kids is a public-private sector partnership with the North Carolina Arts Foundation and the North Carolina Arts Council. Folds said he joined forces with those organizations and first Lady of North Carolina Kristen Cooper to decide the seven inaugural Keys For Kids partners.

He said the seven non-profit organizations were chosen from several locations so that the resources are distributed evenly across the state.

"It's a huge thing," Folds said. "It's very important – changed my life. The desire to help and to give back is where it started, and the journey has led us so far to being connected with these seven organizations to begin with. They were chosen to be as diverse as possible, location and everything, so that it wasn't all going to one place."

Keys For Kids is currently focusing exclusively on organizations in North Carolina, and several of the seven non-profit organizations are based in the Research Triangle.

Kelley Downey, the executive director of Musical Empowerment in Carrboro, said the organization offers free music lessons for young children and involves UNC students serving as mentors.

"We serve K-12 students on a variety of instruments, piano and guitar being the most popular, and so he selected us as one of the organizations that he wanted to partner with," she said.

She said she is appreciative of the "extra boost," as Musical Empowerment does not receive government funds and relies on corporations, individuals and foundations like Keys For Kids for support.

Downey added that the support comes at a perfect time, as Folds is bringing more visibility to the organization on its 20th anniversary.

"In the big picture and the big scheme of things, it's a small slice of the pie, but we're so happy to have every little slice of that pie," she said.

Durham-based nonprofit Kidznotes is another Keys For Kids partner. Executive Director Shana Tucker said she was excited that Kidznotes was one of the selected organizations.

She said that the funds will not only help children learn how to play piano, but it will also open the door for arranging music and accompanying students who are playing other instruments.

"Our philosophy discusses and advocates for access to creativity, no matter what your financial circumstances are," she said. "We believe that creativity keeps human beings more human, and most importantly, as one of our core values, we believe that that everyone has a right to access to creativity, for us specifically through music."

Folds said he hopes he will be able to keep supporting the seven organizations and add more in the years to come.

He said that while he does not know how many organizations Keys For Kids will be able to support in the future, he said it is important that it continues to grow and that the end goal is to positively affect as many lives as possible.

"We do as many as we can," he said. "If we can bite off 30 of them, awesome."

Donations to Keys For Kids can be made here.


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