The most fulfilling 16 years of my professional life were spent at the Joy of Music School. Not seeking a departure, I was approached by an organization I never dreamed I’d be a part of. But I fell in love with its mission and vision, and became convinced I could make a difference. So I will pursue new, exciting challenges in Chicago with The People’s Music School as its new president.
Similar in scope to the Joy of Music School, People’s is another shining example of the power that the pursuit of musical excellence has over inequities. It’s bittersweet to leave so many fulfilling community and personal relationships. But I am motivated by the fact that I will be able to continue in the work that has become so important to me: endeavoring to ensure that every child’s musical talent comes face to face with opportunity.
The decision to embark on this transition did not come easily. I am extremely proud of everything the Joy of Music School staff, board, volunteers, advocates, and especially the students have accomplished during my tenure. I will cherish the relationships built during my time in service to youth and opportunity through music. I have the deepest appreciation for all the amazing musicians, educators, volunteers, staff members, board members, and community supporters who have lifted up the students of Joy of Music School. Without you, thousands of marginalized children and teens would never have had the experience of connecting with a mentor through music, or building their confidence and self-worth through art and discipline.
I am so deeply thankful to have walked alongside such talented individuals as the JoMS staff and board. You are beacons in our community and an inspiration to others for your dedication to our cause and expertise in your craft. I will watch with anticipation as you guide the School into its future. Christy and Enzo join me in a fond and appreciative farewell as we compose our next chapter.
Joy of Music School
P.S. Below is a copy of the media release with more information about my departure.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 19, 2022
For more information:
JOY OF MUSIC SCHOOL ANNOUNCES FRANCIS GRAFFEO’S DEPARTURE AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AFTER 16 YEARS OF SERVICE
Knoxville, Tenn. – Executive Director Francis Graffeo is leaving his post, the nonprofit School announced today. Graffeo’s last day at the Joy of Music School will be January 31, 2022. He has been named President of the nonprofit People’s Music School in Chicago, where he will start in February.
Founded by James Dick in 1998, the Joy of Music School provides no-cost instruments and tuition-free lessons to children lacking access. Graffeo, former general director and conductor of Knoxville Opera, joined the School in 2005. He has played a critical role in the expansion and rise in prominence of the Joy of Music School. He is known for his creative leadership and passionate approach to communicating the power music possesses to improve the lives of children and to build community.
“My first meeting with the board was a ‘bring your checkbook’ meeting. We weren’t going to meet payroll,” said Graffeo. “Fortunately that was a singular occurrence.” After 16 years as Executive Director, he leaves the organization on its strongest financial footing in its history. Enrollment grew from a few dozen students and volunteer teachers in 2005 to more than 1,000 youth reached and 125 teachers at its 2020 pre-pandemic peak. Covid-19 has caused participation to drop by about 30 percent. “Our outstanding Music Education Director, Julie Carter, pivoted to an all-online model, and our tremendous volunteer faculty has been teaching in Zoom lessons since March 2020. Everyone looks forward to meeting in person again soon,” said Graffeo.
The School serves youth from financially challenged households. The children participate in music classes in outreach sites, plus individual lessons and ensembles taught at its main building near downtown Knoxville. For now most lessons and classes are via Zoom video.
Graffeo and the School were founding partners in the Knoxville Area Mentoring Initiative, which linked a handful of local youth-mentoring nonprofits in a consortium that emphasized effective mentoring practices and garnered funding from the Department of Justice in its battle against the effects of the opioid epidemic on area at-risk youth. Graffeo expanded the Joy of Music School’s administrative staff, installing professionals in vital functions as the organization grew. The building mortgage was paid in full in 2019. The School’s endowment fund has tripled in size since 2018. Office tenants’ rent help support School operations. The building recently received an exterior upgrade, and is currently undergoing an interior makeover following some major water damage from a plumbing leak.
Representing the School on the international, national, state, and local stages, Graffeo has advocated for its programs in many forums. The School was featured in ABC TV’s Secret Millionaire in 2011, which brought national and worldwide media exposure for the organization. He leveraged that exposure to attract School support from across the country and overseas.
Under Graffeo’s leadership the School has formed and strengthened enduring partnerships with the UT School of Music, the Knox County Public Defender’s Office, Project Grad, Boys & Girls Clubs, Urban Family Outreach, Wesley House, the School of Rock, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra, the Alliance for Better Nonprofits, AC Entertainment, Big Ears Festival, the Berklee (Boston) City Music Network, Knox Education Foundation, and Knox County Schools.
During Graffeo’s tenure the School won grant support from a host of foundations, including the East Tennessee Foundation, as well as the Country Music Association, Haslam Family, Clayton Family, Gannett, Cole Family, Roddy, D’Addario, Alcoa, Cornerstone, Fender Music, and Justin Timberlake Foundations. Support also comes from the Federal DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Knoxville Leadership Foundation. “I’m proud of the foundations and institutions that support the School. At the same time I’m exceedingly grateful to the late James and Marilyn Dick, and their unbelievably generous family for their embrace of Mr. Dick’s vision,” added Graffeo.
“So many individuals have followed their lead in providing exemplary funding for our work.” Erica White, Board President said, “I speak for the entire community when I say we cannot thank Frank enough for the dedication, passion, enthusiasm and motivation he has given the School family. He will be missed by the staff, board, partners, teachers, students, and supporters. We look forward to following the successes of his career and celebrate his work in this community. We are nonetheless excited to continue our momentum at the School to ensure we continue to empower children with music and its life benefits.”
A search committee has been formed as the School seeks a new executive director. Details of the search will be forthcoming.