We’re thrilled to announce that the acclaimed World music group Playing For Change will headline the first-ever Levitt National Tour. Taking place over a three-week period next summer, the National Tour will stop at six Levitt locations—five existing venues (Arlington, Bethlehem, Los Angeles, Memphis and Pasadena) and one in the works (Denver). In addition to the concerts, the Tour will feature pre-concert conversations with the artists and drum circles, inviting the entire audience to participate.
Co-founded by GRAMMY-winning producer and film director Mark Johnson and Raan Williams in 2004, Playing For Change was created from the belief that music has the power to break boundaries and overcome distances among people—regardless of their geographic, political, economic, spiritual or ideological backgrounds.
“Playing For Change aligns beautifully with the artistic vision of the Levitt program, which is all about inclusivity, diversity of programming, artistic excellence and using the arts as a change agent,” says Sharon Yazowski, Executive Director of Levitt Pavilions. “We’re incredibly excited to bring this stellar group of musicians to Levitt fans across the country, free of charge. Playing For Change’s artistry, coupled with their meaningful message, are sure to resonate with Levitt audiences.”
Playing For Change began with a small film crew and a mobile recording studio. Its breakthrough moment came in 2008, when its video of musicians performing the song “Stand by Me” went viral. In it, musicians separated by thousands of miles across the world—in places like an L.A. street corner, Rio de Janeiro, African villages, even the Himalayan Mountains—were united through the shared experience of creating music. The video became an instant YouTube sensation, and to date, it’s been viewed 55 million times. It was the first of many “Songs Around the World” posted on YouTube by Playing For Change that have attracted viewers in the millions.
From this online success, Playing For Change grew into a movement encompassing a nonprofit foundation that develops and operates music schools in five countries, including Nepal, South Africa, Ghana, Mali and Rwanda, as well as a touring band comprised of seasoned musicians from around the world performing a blend of World music traditions.
“Music transcends and unites us,” said Raan Williams, who has managed the group for more than a decade. “The universal nature of music inspires our global movement to create world peace through music.”
The genesis for the touring band was that “we wanted to see what happens when all these cultures from all over the world unite for a common purpose, on the stage, as a tangible example of the power of music and humanity,” said Mark Johnson. “Together they are creating something where there’s hope, a future for the planet, and people walk away from a concert with a feeling in their hearts that is a way to change the world.”
The Levitt network was unanimous in its selection of Playing For Change as the band for the first Levitt National Tour. “I’ve been following Playing For Change for a number of years, attracted to their mission and their phenomenal musicianship,” said Anne Pitts, executive director of Levitt Shell Memphis. “I’m grateful that the National Tour will make it feasible for us to bring them to the Levitt Shell and engage our diverse audiences.”
Comprised of an international roster of acclaimed musicians from nine countries and representing four continents, Playing For Change possesses a unique, exhilarating sound that reflects its mission. The celebrated performers who make up Playing For Change hail from the Congo (Jason Tamba and Mermans Mosengo); New Orleans (street icon Grandpa Elliott); The Netherlands (Clarence Bekker); South Africa (Titi Tsira); Cuba (Orbe Ortiz); Israel (Tal Ben-Ari aka Tula); Italy (Roberto Luti); Los Angeles (Peter Bunetta); Japan (Keiko Komaki); and Zimbabwe (Louis Mhlanga).
In the coming months, we will announce the concert dates for the inaugural Levitt National Tour, so stay tuned for further details!