For several years I have been dating a beautiful woman named Ginny Mancini. I don't know if it's proper for a gent of advanced age like me to use the term "dating" but hell, since this is my Huffington blog I can do so. She and I go to many charity events, movies and plays, new restaurants, even yoga classes and UCLA lectures....Ginny is a witty, wise, attractive and interesting women, one who doesn't suffer fools easily, so I feel privileged to be her friend. Her dinner parties are legendary; imagine being seated between Quincy Jones and Joe Smith for example. I have been able to view just a few of the many, many philanthropic efforts she quietly makes all year long. Ginny, a native Angelino, told me last night that her Mexican family settled in a multi-ethnic neighborhood at 107th Street and Vermont in Southwest L.A. She began singing in high school and then became a member of Mel Torme's Mel-Tones, later the Tex Beneke-Glenn Miller Orchestra, where she met a young pianist/composer named Henry Mancini and the rest is history.
I have known the Mancini family for almost half my life, ever since Hank Mancini composed the musical score for a film which I produced in the late '70s, W.C. Fields & Me, with Rod Steiger and Valerie Perrine. The music was bouncy, joyous and fun, much like Hank himself. He died too early in 1984, and I kept my friendship with the family ever since. Which explains why I was at at gala fund-raising dinner last evening to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Neighborhood Music School and to honor Mrs. Ginny Mancini. I must admit thaI had not heard of the music school until a few weeks ago, when I met its new director, Mitch Moore, at Ginny's Malibu beach house. He then told me about this remarkable school located in Boyle Heights which teaches music to many minority/ethnic students from all over the city. He said that the Neighborhood Music School began in 1914 in a little cottage on a street in Lincoln Heights that was named, quite appropriately, Mozart. By the 1930's, more than 300 students a month were taking lessons at the school - a group that represented as many as 18 nationalities, including Russians, Jews, Italians Germans, Africans and Japanese. The school's teachers, many of whom were members of the L..A. Philharmonic Orchestra, received 50 cents an hour to teach, while students who could afford it paid 12 cents an hour. Scholarships were given to many. In 1933 the non-profit Neighborhood Music School moved to its present location on South Boyle Avenue. Its home is a charmingly-restored 19th century Victorian house where a cacophany of musical sounds emerge from 350 students per week. Students regularly perform at local hospitals, retirement communities and other L.A.-area venues. Mitch told me that Ginny has been a generous supporter of the school over the years and she has dedicated her life to being an advocate of music education for all chlldren. Tonight we saw all minority and ethnic kids playing their hearts out on stage....such a moving sight.
So it was fitting that she was being awarded the School's inaugural Mancini Award - named in honor of her late husband Henry. Cheech Marin brilliantly emceed the evening, while famed film composer John Williams ("Star Wars")_presented the award to her, and Ginny charmingly 'sang' her acceptance while Shelly Berg played for her. Ginny tearfully began her acceptance speech by noting that it ws 67 years ago this very night that she had married Henry. Saxophonist David Koz played and Ginny's daughter, Monica, thrillingly sang to entertain the audience... a musical treat. It was announced that the Peterson Foundation was donating one million dollars to the school, with another to-be-matched grant of a million. (Marge Petersen was at the next table.) I was delighted to note that the Herb Albert Foundation in the person of Rona Sebastian was also there; they are prominent contributor, since I am friends with Herb and Lani Alpert. I had the pleasure of sitting next to musical legend Joe Smith, who also made an ample grant this evening. The Mancini family was out in force; daughters Monica, Felice and son Chris. All guests received a wonderful CD of Mancini music as they left. It was a spectacular evening...as the Neighborhood Music School continues to build bright musical futures for children....one note at a time.
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