First Lady Mary Louise Lee wants to bring back the arts

Several nationally renowned artists and musicians are Denver natives: Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire graduated from East Denver High School; The Fray's Isaac Slade and Joe King were schoolmates at Faith Christian Academy. Now Denver's First Lady Mary Louise Lee wants to promote Denver's notable cultural legacy with Bringing Back the Arts, an initiative that will raise awareness -- and funding -- for music and arts programs in Denver Public Schools. The first move is a competition for DPS high school students who play in a band, rap or sing; on March 18, eight finalists will compete at the Bluebird Theater for prizes that include a KBCO Studio C session, a live radio interview, and a gig as the opening act at an upcoming Bluebird concert.

Chuck Morris, president of AEG Live of the Rocky Mountains, is sponsoring the competition. "This is a great town for music, I've been around it for forty years," he says. "We have a wonderful First Lady who's helping create the place to give kids a break, and we're happy we can just be a small part of it."

A selection committee composed of local artists reviewed nearly eighty music samples and selected the eight finalists who'll compete on Sunday. At a press conference yesterday, Lee announced the eight finalists:

- Quentin Berry, JFK High School - Cooper Leith, Denver School of the Arts - Austin Patrick, CEC Middle College - Andy Post, East Hight School - RiZoZaz Jazz Band, Denver School of the Arts - Jordan Rose, South High School - Francesco Tesei, CEC Middle College - Hannah Whitehead, DSST High School in Stapleton

Lee, herself a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, has always been appreciative of her art classes and art teachers. "I know what the arts did for me, and I know what a difference it made. It helped me to be well balanced," she says.

With Bringing Back the Arts, she hopes to make arts programs accessible to everyone by hiring more arts teachers and creating more after-school arts programs. "There are a lot of families who cannot afford to send their kids to private voice lessons or dance class," she notes. "So we're going to try to make that feasible for everyone."

Seventeen-year-old Jordan Rose, a member of the Denver South High School choir and a finalist in the Bringing Back the Arts competition, kicked off the announcement session yesterday with a performance of Toni Braxton's lullaby, "How Could an Angel Break My Heart." "I thought it was a really great thing to get involved with, and I just went for it," Rose says.

For tickets to Sunday's Bringing Back the Arts competition, which starts at 6:30 p.m., click here.

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