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The foundation that supports Ivy Preparatory Academy, the state’s first single-gender public charter school is hosting a benefit concert on Thursday, Dec. 4, at the Defoor Centre featuring Atlanta’s “King of Strings” Ken Ford.

The jazz violinist, who has shared the stage with R&B greats Jill Scott and India Irie, will share his talents in a special concert to support educational programs at Ivy Preparatory Academy Schools Network. Tickets for the event at1710 Defoor Avenue in Atlanta cost $55 per person.

Ford is a respected jazz artist who has made a national career in music as a virtuoso of the electric violin. He honed his soulful string playing in metro Atlanta where he grew up as a young musician. Ford’s parents discovered that he could play keyboard by ear when he was in elementary school. At age nine, he began to study the violin and play the classics. He is a founding member of the DeKalb Youth Pop Orchestra and a graduate of Decatur’s Towers High School. Ford later joined the African American Philharmonic Orchestra where he played with Grammy Award-winning artist Barry White and was promoted to the title of Concert Master.

But it was Ford’s desire to play popular songs heard on the radio that would eventually propel his career as a solo artist. His string renditions of R&B and jazz hits pushed him to expand his repertoire beyond the classics and develop new techniques that would attract younger and more diverse audiences to violin concerts. During his solo career, Ford has shared billing with a host of award winning R& B artists including Chaka Khan, Will Downing and Frankie Beverly.

Ford took time out of his busy rehearsal schedule to share his story with Ivy Prep Academy:

Q: Why did you choose to play violin?
A: In the fourth grade, the teacher passed out pictures of instruments. We were supposed to circle the one you wanted to play. Back in the day you had to choose something. The first thing I selected was the upright base. I had already experimented with the horn and with the drums. My parents always bought me instruments anytime I had a birthday. After I had picked the bass, I changed my mind at the last minute. That thing was huge, and my parents had a Volkswagen Bug. I decided to get the miniature version of the bass and played the violin instead.

Q: Why did you stick with the violin and show that it could be a versatile instrument used to play classical and popular music?
A: I grew up in a family that was into music. My dad was a deejay. I was at the old school parties. I was helping my dad with the records. One day I was going through the records and I came across this guy with no shirt on and an Afro. He was holding a violin. It was Noel Pointer. I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Wow!’ I put on the record. I knew right at that moment that I wanted to do that. It was really hearing someone else doing something different with the violin that excited me. I enjoyed playing classical music. When I found out that you could play the stuff that is on the radio, too, that is really what made me stick with it. The first song I learned to play is Stevie Wonder’s “Where were you when I needed you.”’ I still play that song.

Q: Would you like to see more minorities consider playing string instruments like the violin?
A: It’s happening. There is a movement. There are more and more black violinists popping up, and they are playing what they want to play. All you have to do is search electric violin on YouTube. You will be surprised how many entries come up. Some are playing hip-hop.

Q: What is it that you love about music?
A: Music is a part of me. It’s my bread and butter because I love it. Music tells a story.
It is almost like listening to a conversation. You can come up with something different even though there are millions of songs out there. Music is life. It is universal. You can play a piece of music for someone in Australia and they can still move to it here. Music is very spiritual to me as well.

Q: Tell me about The Ken Ford Foundation.
A: Before the Foundation started I would get invited to come and play at schools. I would talk to the kids about music… Later, we launched a nonprofit. Everyone has that window in the back of his or her minds. By opening that window to music appreciation, it is one of those things that can help academics.

Tickets still available

The Ivy Prep Foundation benefit concert “A Night of Jazz featuring Ken Ford” will help to expand educational opportunities for students at Ivy Prep. Ivy Prep receives only state and federal funds for the education of students. Ivy Prep schools operate on about half of the budget of traditional public schools. Ivy Prep, however, is still required to produce results in student achievement that surpass local schools funded at a higher level.

Ivy Prep Schools provide educational choice to a diverse group of students including those in middle-income households and those in neighborhoods burdened with crime, poverty, and low expectations for kids. Ivy Prep’s mission is to prepare scholars to succeed at the colleges and universities of their choice.

Ivy Prep Schools in Gwinnett and DeKalb have extended days, an extended year, and double daily doses of math, language arts and other core classes. The charter school network educates nearly 1,000 students in metro Atlanta. Ivy Prep’s flagship school for girls is in Gwinnett County. Ivy Prep also operates two schools in DeKalb County, Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls and Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

Ivy Prep Academy has a proven record of narrowing the achievement gap between students of different socio-economic backgrounds. In 2012, Ivy Prep Gwinnett was the only public middle and high school in to be named a “rewards school” for high-test performance among minority and low-income students.

For more information on Ken Ford, visit www.kenford.net.

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