Grammys 2015: Grammy students win the chance of a lifetime

Grammy Camp participant Immanuel Wilkins, 17, wants a solo career as a saxophonist.
(Jerod Harris / Getty Images)

Having the opportunity to record in the legendary studios of Capitol Records is a feat many will never accomplish. But, for a small group of high school students, the record label home of artists such as Sam Smith, Katy Perry and Mary J. Blige opened its doors early Thursday.

These students are an elite group of 32 singers and instrumentalists participating in Grammy Camp, Jazz Session, a program dedicated to mentoring young musicians and teaching them the music industry.

Choosen from hundreds of applicants, the best of the best were selected for an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles, as well as the opportunity to perform at a host of shows leading up to Sunday’s Grammy telecast, including the Grammy in the Schools Live showcase at Club Nokia on Wednesday night.

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One of the students benefiting from this experience is Nick Lee, a student at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. After learning of the opportunity from his school’s band director, he’s applied for the program every year since ninth grade. After two unsuccessful attempts, Lee, 17, was accepted this year and has had a blast.


“It’s just great to have such a cool musical experience with other kids who share the same love that I do,” said Lee, who plays the trombone. “I get to see everyone in the country that is at the same level that I am at in what they do.”

One of the best parts of the experience, he said, has, of course, been getting the chance to record in Capitol Studios. “I just know there’s a lot of history here,” he said.

David Sears is executive education director for the camp’s sponsor, the Grammy Foundation. The program, he said, “shows how there is still quality music education still going on in this country,” despite continual cuts to music program budgets nationwide. A major part of the week, he said, is the educational component students go through learning about the business side of the industry, its barriers and many struggles.

“If they don’t know that they are coming, they don’t know how to prepare for them,” Sears said.

Grammy Camp, Jazz Session, is one of multiple educational initiatives sponsored by the foundation. Another is Grammy in the Schools, which raises money for music education in classrooms.

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All of the campers want to join the ranks of alumni who have gone to lead successful musical careers, including Carlos Henriquez of the Lincoln Center Jazz Band, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, country singer Chris Young and pianist Aaron Parks.

Immanuel Wilkins, 17, from Upper Darby High School in Upper Darby, Pa., wants a solo career as a saxophonist. This year is his second participating in Grammy Camp, Jazz Session.

“The best part is just getting to meet new guys,” he said. “It’s always great to play with people you’ve heard of or connected with through social networks.”

Ultimately, he hopes his music can affect audiences worldwide. “I just want to touch as many lives as I can,” Wilkins said.

All 32 students will get the chance to attend the Grammy Awards on Sunday and will perform again at the Recording Academy’s after party. The music they record at Capitol Records will be compiled into an album and sold at online music outlets.

Follow on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.