Smokey Robinson surprises Pio Pico students with a song, new instruments – and $1 million

Students celebrate as Smokey Robinson presents a check for $1 million from Niagara Cares, to be used for music education.

Motown legend William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. made a special appearance Wednesday at Pio Pico Middle School, where he announced the donation of musical instruments along with a $1 million donation to Little Kids Rock, which supports music education in Pio Pico and other L.A. Unified schools.

The R&B singer-songwriter spoke during a morning assembly after listening to student performers and singing his classic, “You Really Gotta Hold On Me.”

“This is a great school with a great music program,” Robinson said. “I think that music is such a wonderful world, and if you are going to be in it, then learn it. Learn to read music. Learn the meaning and the technique. Know what you are doing. That’s why music education is so important.”

Robinson recalled his childhood in urban Detroit, when music and arts education was part of the curriculum in all of the schools.

“Now, sadly, it’s been disappearing,” he said. “When you are fortunate enough to have a program like this, which you can use to learn to do what you love, take advantage of it. Don’t let it pass you by.”

Little Kids Rock provides free training, musical instruments and other resources to teachers interested in offering or expanding music education in their schools. The organization’s partners include the Hot Topic Foundation, the Musicians Institute, Shout Records and Rhino Records.

“We believe music education is a right, not a privilege,” said David Wish, founder and CEO of Little Kids Rock. “Music brings people together in ways nothing else can. If we want to live in a world that is harmonious, we need to invest in harmony. If we want to live in a world that is beautiful, we need to invest in beauty.”

Wednesday’s event culminated with a presentation of the $1 million donation by Robinson, Wish and representatives from Little Kids Rock and Niagara Cares. The grant from the philanthropic arm of the Niagara Bottling Co. came as a surprise to the students.

“This is so amazing and awesome,” said eighth-grader Brando Perez, who plays guitar with the school’s stage band. “We learned about Smokey Robinson in class and saw a movie about him for our lesson on Motown. And, now he’s here listening to us play. With someone really famous in the music industry like him here to inspire us –  and with the new instruments –  we’re going to be able to play better than ever before.”

Robinson took a few minutes to take questions from students before it was time to return to class.

Eighth-grader Brando Perez, right, performs a solo before a very special audience.

“What are some of the musicians and groups from today that you listen to and why,” asked eighth-grader Laila Ainsworth.

“Everything,” Robinson replied. “If you could see the setup in my car, you’d see everything from Bach to Nelly. And, I love rap music – it’s street poetry. These are people making music about what they are living. It’s real and it’s powerful.”

Robinson also posed for photos and selfies as he left the auditorium. Meanwhile, students chanted “We love you, Smokey!” and “We love you, Niagara.”