Grammy Winner, Fugees Member Wyclef Jean Visits Passaic School

For the parents of 450 lucky music students in Passaic, the answer to “what happened at school today?” probably ran along the lines of “I learned that Wyclef Jean was a music nerd just like me.”

“I can imagine these conversations happening in a few hours,” said Latasha Casterlow-Lalla, Passaic Schools Performing Arts Supervisor, “and they’ll be like, why didn’t you tell me?”

It’s likely, she said, that many of the students invited to attend a special assembly featuring a three-time Grammy winner probably didn’t fully realize they were in the presence of rap royalty. .

And Jean is rap royalty. His collaborations first with Lauren Hill as part of the Fugees and later with other world famous artists were a staple of teen soundtracks.

“He’s a big star in New Jersey. It’s like Bruce Springsteen or Frank Sinatra coming to Passaic,” Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said.

Jean was in attendance Tuesday at Passaic’s School 21, Sonia Sotomayor School, as the headliner for Tuesday’s national rollout of Little Kids Rock’s rebranding as Music Will, a charity that focuses on teaching music to children.

Passaic was one of three school districts where Music Will was rolling out its new brand. The others were Brooklyn, with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Los Angeles, with Smokey Robinson.

As part of its rollout, Music Will founder Dave Wish said his band would donate instruments, a new music curriculum and training for 12 of Passaic’s schools.

“Music is something we need every day,” Wish said. “Music is what makes all the different cultures cohesive.”

Music Will specializes in teaching music in the patois of today’s students.

For Jean, Tuesday was a time to give back. He told the students that he was a nerd who played in the school band.

He was largely self-taught and his first instrument was the trombone. After moving to this country from Haiti, he cemented his love of music.

At age 15, he joined the jazz band at Vailsburg High School in Newark, and soon after became its leader. His big break came in rap music as the genre was rapidly gaining popularity. This led to other forms of success, in music production, film and television roles, as well as mastering 15 instruments.

“I want everyone here to understand the power of dreams,” Jean told the students. “I never wanted to be a superstar. I wanted to leave my mark.”

He encouraged children to dream big, “as big as they can”, to learn more about what came before them and use that to find ways to build on the past to improve the future for them- themselves, for their community and for everyone.

For Lora, the influence of Jean, Wish and Casterlow-Lalla is enormous because it shows Passaic students that they can find a career path in music, whether in performance, production or one many other jobs in the music industry.

“Many have talent, but when talent is used to bless and inspire others, it becomes a gift,” the mayor said. “I am extremely grateful to this incredible and gifted artist who comes to our town of Passaic and inspires our young people.”

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