Fundraiser scheduled this weekend

URBANA — A group of supporters of the Mo' Betta Music Program will host a fundraiser for the program from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Urbana Civic Center, 108 E Water St.

The Mo' Betta Band, which concentrates on jazz and R&B, will perform at the event, and food will be served. Also, Barrington Coleman, a professor of voice at the University of Illinois, will be a special guest.

There will be no admission charge for the fundraiser, but donations will be taken during the event. People attending are welcome to come and go as they please.

The after-school Mo' Betta Music Program and Summer Camp are the brainstorms of jazz trumpeter and now retired UI administrator Nathaniel Banks and percussionist/retired applications engineer Robert Lewis, both Champaign-Urbana residents.

Their main goals are to help the Mo' Betta students feel comfortable in their school bands and to "challenge for" the first chair in their school band sections, Lewis said in 2009, three years after he and Banks started the Mo' Betta program.

Another reason for Mo' Betta Music, according to Lewis: Many studies show that students involved in music do better academically.

Mo' Betta is designed for youths of various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, but anyone may participate.

"From the beginning, most of the students came free of charge. I know because my daughter is a divorcee, single parent, very limited funds with three sons who were allowed to be a part of the program," Barb Gillespie, an organizer of the fundraiser, wrote in an email.

"My heart was stirred because of the many students I observed in the program, and the diligence rendered to include all those who wanted this experience. Some came without instruments, but Nate and Robert worked to make sure they got them."

Some supporters have given Mo' Betta donations, but the amounts have been minimal compared to what the program needs, Gillespie said.

"With all of this in mind, we desired to do something to keep this program alive and vibrant," she said.

Gillespie also noted that Banks, Lewis and others who collaborate with them musically are often asked to play at events around town. "They charge no fee and groups just give them an appreciation monetary gift," she said. "We want to do more."

The Mo' Betta program recently received a $2,000 city of Urbana public arts grant. Banks, who after retiring from the UI began directing the band program at Urbana High School, said the grant money will cover registration fees and scholarships for students in the Mo' Betta Summer Camp this year.

He hopes to have 50 students in fifth grade through high school in the camp. Among the instructors at past Mo' Betta camps are Coleman and Ron Bridgewater, also a music professor at the UI.

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