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Detroit's Martin Luther King Jr. High School Band Raises Money To Perform At London Olympics

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Student musicians of Detroit's Martin Luther King, Jr. High School band who are hoping to perform during this summer's Olympics in London have attracted serious financial support but still need tens of thousands of dollars more to realize their overseas dream.

Band members have been fundraising in earnest and have already raised about $30,000. The London trip will cost a total of roughly $240,000 to take 50 students plus chaperones, according to the band's director, Victoria Miller.

"One dollar from 200,000 people; that's just what I need," Miller said.

She can now adjust that target slightly. On Thursday, Detroit area McDonalds operators announced that they're donating $3,500 to the cause, and Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers will contribute $100,000.

That still puts the band about $100,000 short, but other contributors are being pursued.

This summer won't be Miller's first time at the Olympics; she took King's marching band to Beijing to perform in 2008. But this year brings a whole new crop of students and a fresh chance to show off talent.

The King band performs a variety of music, including classical works as well as jazz and pop. The marching band likes to perform hits like Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." and Patti LaBelle's "The Right Kind of Lover" -- as well as Motown tunes like the Temptations' "Get Ready."

After receiving the invitation to perform at the London Olympics about a year ago, Miller passed it along to Detroit's All City Marching Band, which combines musicians from King with those of other city high schools. But the All City band decided it couldn't raise the funds and passed the baton back to Miller, who then started looking for cash.

Miller doesn't like to ask the financially struggling district for money because she thinks available funds should go to academics. "There's no money," she said. "I have to buy my own sheet music." The Detroit Public Schools district is about $87 million in the red and under the supervision of a state-appointed financial manager.

So Miller turned to fundraising. In December, the band program received a $10,000 boost from Twentieth Century Fox Television's "Glee" Give a Note Contest, and local organizations have hosted fundraising dinners netting about $5,000.

And then there's been the old bake sale method. "We're collecting cans and bottles, change, whatever people can give," Miller said. One recent Friday, the students raised $1,600 from M&M sales.

"It's not just about going on a trip; it's about teaching children to set goals and work hard," Miller explained.

And her goal is showcasing homegrown talent, too. "I want to let people know that Detroit is a great place and we have great children and great people," Miller said. "I want make sure every shirt has 'Detroit' on it. I want the world to know we are okay in this city."

A product of Detroit schools and local music programs herself, Miller played piano and took up flute in middle school before attending Cass Technical High School and studying music at Wayne State University. But even though the district has been promoting early retirement as enrollment declines, the 60-year-old teacher intends to keep working. "I'm hoping I can do five more years because I just see so many children that need me," Miller said.

Interested in supporting the King High School Marching Band's trip to the Olympics? You can send a check payable to MLKing Band to Attn: Victoria Miller, band director, Martin Luther King High School, 3200 E. Lafayette Street, Detroit 48207.

Watch the King High School Marching Band performing at Detroit's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2010:

Flickr photo by femaletrumpet02.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified the band's director. She is Victoria Miller, not Vanessa Miller.

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