The People’s Music School began as a small storefront in 1976, and has since expanded to cultivate hundreds of young, growing minds throughout Chicago.
Dr. Rita Simó (1934-2020)
Founder, The People’s Music School
Dr. Rita Simó, a Juilliard-trained classical pianist, was inspired by the free music education she received as a child in the Dominican Republic. She dreamt of having her own place to teach and convey the joy of learning music to others. Her belief was that all children should have access to music education, regardless of their family’s socioeconomic status.
Rita’s dream became a reality on February 22, 1976 when she opened the doors of The People’s Music School in a vacant storefront in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, with only $625 and a piano donated by St. Thomas of Canterbury Catholic Church. Rita placed a sign in the window that said FREE MUSIC LESSONS and a handful of students began to trickle in.
Rita was quoted as saying. “What we are doing is letting students discover their self-worth through their love of music.” In 1995, Dr. Simó and the school directors erected the building currently housing the school at 931 W. Eastwood Avenue, still in the culturally diverse Uptown neighborhood where it first began.
On September 22, 2020, we lost our fierce and fearless founder Dr. Rita Simó. Rita passed away in her home in Uptown with her husband Tomás by her side. Read our tribute to Rita.
“I’m going to build this beautiful thing and it’s going to be messy and it’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s going to be magical.”
– Dr. Rita Simó
The People’s Music School opened its doors for the first time on February 22nd. Thus a legacy of tuition-free music education began in a repurposed barber shop at 4417 North Sheridan.
A vacant lot on a residential block in Uptown became the permanent home for The People’s Music School in 1995. The land was purchased for $1 from the City under the condition that the site always be used for tuition-free music programming.
The City of Chicago honored our founder by granting Eastwood Avenue the honorary title Rita Simó Way.
In partnership with Hibbard Elementary School, The People’s Music School launched an El Sistema-inspired youth orchestra program in Albany Park. The partnership has grown over the years to serve around 150 youth every year.
Jennifer Kim Matsuzawa began her career as a piano instructor at The People’s Music School. She went on to achieve active leadership roles at Bain & Company and PepsiCo. Her return to the school as President & Artistic Director brought renewed vision and energy.
To better reflect the geography of our students, TPMS expanded to the South Side of Chicago. We launched an orchestra program at Lara Elementary School in Back of the Yards, and a band program at the Gary Comer Youth Center near Englewood.
Yo-Yo Ma surprised our students by joining them in a performance at Forefront’s annual luncheon! We launch our Service Leadership and Mentorship program (SLAM) Launched in the fall of 2016, our SLAM program is a high school honors program designed for our most experienced students.
TPMS string quintet opened the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, which featured remarks from Lin Manuel-Miranda, Common, Chance the Rapper, and many other musicians.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot meets our students at our annual Performapaloozathon, a six-hour music marathon featuring all sorts of instruments and musicians of all ages.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the People’s Music School transitions to remote online learning, offering virtual music lessons and performance opportunities.
We usher in our new President, Francis Graffeo. Frank comes to TPMS with more than 20 years of experience in the performance and nonprofit spheres. As a trained conductor, he is deeply committed to the power of music to change lives.