Born in 1954, world-renowned, Grammy-nominated jazz violinist and composer Noel Pointer made his solo debut performing Vivaldi with the Symphony of the New World Orchestra by the tender age of 13. By age 19, he had played for The Apollo Theatre Orchestra, The Unlimited Orchestra, The Westbury Music Fair Orchestra, TheRadio City Music Hall Symphony, The Love Unlimited Orchestra (US Tour), The Dance Theater of Harlem Orchestra, The Symphony of the New World Orchestra, and the pit orchestras of several Broadway shows, like Dreamgirls.
From 1977 to 1981, Pointer had recorded seven solo albums, four of which reached the top five jazz albums listed on Billboard‘s jazz charts. In 1981 Noel was nominated for the Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Track. Pointer’s reputation as a noted jazz musician and literary advocate garnered him honorary citizenship in cities across the United States. He served as a music advisory panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA).
With all his esteem, Noel had an affection for audiences in inner-city communities. He believed that learning to play a string instrument was a transformative experience that advances children’s lives.
Noel Pointer passed away in 1994. However, The Noel Pointer Foundation, started in 1995 by Pointer’s wife, Chinita Pointer, keeps his legacy, spirit and dream alive by bringing string music to tens of thousands of inner-city youth.
Chinita reflects how the misfortune of losing her husband has become the great fortune of tens of thousands of New York City children, most of whom are now exposed to the beauty, discipline and showmanship of an artistic medium they would have otherwise not received.
Two decades later, Chinita says, she can hardly believe it has happened… because it almost didn’t:
“When Noel passed, we were getting all of these donations. So we decided to establish a foundation,” said Chinita. “After the funeral, we gathered around my mother-in-law’s dining room table and listed all of the projects of his that were unfinished.
“They looked at me and said, ‘Well, we think you’re going to have to run this organization.’ And I was like, you want me to do what? No I’m not… Listen my husband just died, I have three children, and I have to figure out how we’re going to survive on one income now…”
Needless to say, the task still landed in her lap. And she had no idea where to begin. Fortunately, Marty Markowitz, who was state senator at the time, helped her get her 501c3 non-profit status. And so by June of 1995, The Noel Pointer Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit.
In the first year, NPF gave away scholarships to kids who showed promise in studying a string instrument. In the second year, in 1997, NPF held a big concert at BAM with a stellar lineup of jazz notables, including Regina Carter, John Lucien, George Howard, Angela Bofil, and others.
“It was awesome,” said Chinita. “But after that concert, our board got together and asked, ‘Well, where do we go from here? I’d always dreamed of having children of color studying string instruments in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but I wasn’t sure how.”
A year later, Chinita was connected with Dr. Lester Young, who at the time was a school superintendent of District #13 in Bed-Stuy. He’d heard about Chinita’s foundation and immediately, schedule a meeting.
“The first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘What do you want? And what do you need?’” Chinita recalls. Nervously, she told him: to start a string program for inner-city youth.
He then connected her with a principal at P.S. 44 in Bed-Stuy, who, upon Dr. Young’s suggestion, decided to pilot her program at her school of kindergarten through 6th graders. It took nearly three months to flush out all of the details, said Chinita.
“After we finished figuring out the program, our string quartet gave a performance for her PTA to a full auditorium of students and parents and then afterwards, told them about the program” said Chinita. “We had 30 kids—kindergarten through 5th grade— sign up for the violin that day.”
That was the beginning. Within five months of the program’s start, the kids were ready to take auditions at the Julliard School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. And it has been fast-forward since.
On Tuesday, June 23, from 6:00pm – 9:30pm at BAMFisher Auditorium, located 321 Ashland Place, The Noel Pointer Foundation will celebrate 20 years of string music at an anniversary concert and fundraiser. The anniversary celebration, featuring the Thomas Ortiz Dance Company and Chargaux, will honor Pastors A.R. and Karen Bernard, Grammy Award-winning artist Chrisette Michelle and New York State Regent Dr. Lester Young.
“Twenty years ago, I would have never imagined that this woman from New Jersey who married Noel Pointer would be running this non-profit organization for young children,” said Chinita Pointer. “It’s just incredible to me to think how all of these children, many of whom are now grown, have been impacted by this– this massive string music program in the public schools for our children! That’s something that has never existed before!”
To purchase tickets online, visit www.noelpointer.org.
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