Last week, non-profit organization Little Kids Rock hosted its sixth annual benefit at Hammerstein Ballroom at The Manhattan Center, which generated approximately $1.5 million in donations to help support students and music teachers in public schools with donated instruments, curricular resources and training.

The benefit also honored Joan Jett as “Rocker of the Year” for the impact that her career, influence, and music has had on the charity’s ‘Modern Band’ music program, which helps facilitate the teaching of popular musical styles that kids know and love, like rock, hip hop, country, blues and funk.

“For twelve years, Little Kids Rock has supported over 320,000 teachers and students realize the true impact of music – inside and outside the classroom,” said David Wish, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Little Kids Rock. “Thanks to the generosity of our partners and supporters, we’re able to continue to bring this gift to thousands of kids each year, long after the benefit has ended.”

To begin, guests enjoyed a performance by Sharkapella, an after school a cappella vocal group made of current and former students ages 13-16. Maureen Van Zandt then formally welcomed the audience to the evening’s festivities. Van Zandt is an honorary board member of Little Kids Rock alongside her husband, Steven Van Zandt, who also served as the producer of this year’s musical production and oversees his own Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.

Following her introduction, The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore and radio host, Rich Russo, took to the stage to serve as hosts for the night, bringing David Wish front and center to honor Guitar Center’s Mike Pratt for his and Guitar Center’s support and partnership with the charity. Guitar Center also served as the title sponsor.

Wish went on to speak to the crowd about the charity’s mission and, most importantly, the students and teachers it supports – teachers like John Flora, who joined a number of student performers on stage to captivate the crowd with hits like “Counting Stars.”

“Not only do our students receive the gift of music education for free, but they also know they’re welcome in a classroom where everyone speaks the only universal language the world has ever known- music,” said Mr. Flora during his address to the audience.

Don Reo, who co-wrote the book Big Man with Clarence Clemons, then came to the stage to present the “Big Man of the Year” award to the late performer’s nephew, Jake Clemons. The students joined him in two entertaining performances, “You’re a Friend of Mine” and “Valentine Song.”

Ten-year-old Ashley Nunez, a student from PS 98 Shorac Kappock elementary school in Manhattan who performed an original song featuring Jake Clemons, summed up the night best, saying “Little Kids Rock gave me the chance to learn to play music, and now they are giving me the chance to play a song that we wrote in school in front of all of these people. This has been such an awesome experience, and a night I’ll never forget.”

The night then turned its attention to Little Kids Rock “Rocker of the Year” Joan Jett, her legacy and the role she’s played in advancing music education. Members of rock royalty paid homage, including Alice Cooper, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, Cheap Trick, Tommy James, Darlene Love, Gary U.S. Bonds, Kathleen Hanna with Ad-Rock, Mike Ness, Jesse Malin, Brody Dalle, Jake Clemons and Little Kids Rock students from local schools. Guests enjoyed a variety of covers and original music, such as:

• Cheap Trick, “I Hate Myself For Loving You”
• Gary US Bonds and Jake Clemons, “Eye to Eye”
• Brody Dalle, “Victim of Circumstance”
• Jesse Malin, “Bad Reputation”
• Darlene Love, “Little Liar”
• Mike Ness, “Love Is Pain”
• Tommy James and Joan Jett, “Crimson and Clover”
• Kathleen Hannah with Ad-Rock, “Fake Friends”
• Billie Joe Armstrong and Joan Jett, “Don’t Abuse Me”
• Alice Cooper and Joan Jett, “Be My Lover”

The night ended, fittingly, with an epic finale of Joan’s classic “I Love Rock N Roll.”

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