By Patty Fantasia
The School Tour brought musicians downtown to the Fremont Street stage on February 25 and 26 with their latest Las Vegas Show called Taste of Soul. Started in 2004, the Los Angeles based promotional tour company takes independent and new artists to high schools, middle schools, county fairs, parades, convention centers, nightclubs and other special events to perform in front of large audiences. Encompassing various styles of music including Pop, Rock, R&B and Rap artists, dancers and their crews are also featured in the shows on a regular basis. Since it began participating acts have performed in front of over 200,000 students and supporting audience members.
Known by its motto “One Team, One Dream” one of the young men who has been instrumental in the growth and development of the program is Vice President and Head of Promotions Chris Roker. A music industry veteran, Chris is the son of Doo Wop legend Wally Roker, who is the original bass of The Heartbeats and a member of the Doo Wop Hall of Fame. Over the years the younger Roker has held various executive level positions at major and independent record labels including Russell Simmons Music Group, Avatar Records and Sin-Drome Music Force. He is also the co-founder of the Spin Doctors Promo Group, which is an independent promotions and management company whose clients He explained that southern Nevada became part of The School Tour after “we did a show at The Black Business Expo at The Los Angeles Convention Center and a Stage Manager from The Fremont Experience in Las Vegas was impressed with my performers and invited us out there to perform thus we've been doing it twice a year for 6 years.”
First and foremost, it is the goal of The School Tour to provide quality positive entertainment and free giveaways at the schools they serve. Their interactive shows promote music and the arts and try unifying students at a time when various school districts are being challenged by racial boundaries and negative elements. It is their goal to promote peace and unity through music and their participants also dedicate their time performing for disadvantaged children and their families at special schools and events. In addition, they partner with non-profit organizations and support groups such as the Power Up Network, The boys and Girls Clubs of America and The Urban League to reinforce positive messages and confront social issue.
Chris related that the program’s founder Randy Hankins came up with the idea because he wanted to give students in the Los Angeles Unified School District an opportunity to enjoy quality positive entertainment at school, learn about the arts and receive positive reinforcement to stay in school. He then teamed up with Roker, Dr. Norris Dorsey and Henry Garcia, who all volunteer their time, energy and connections. Chris added, “We found that there was a great need for artist to help build their fanbase and what a better way to go where there fans are and also help build positive role models for students who can see acts there own age doing something positive with there lives.”
For the artists, The School Tour has become an important outlet for gaining exposure in the second largest music market the US has to offer. The number of shows planned varies depending on how many participants are involved at any one time, yet The Tour has grown by 20% a year since offering about 100 events in 2007. In 2010 they produced approximately 180 dates/events. Audience size also varies with the average school auditorium holding 1,000 students while outside venues can easily range from 350 to 2,000 attendees. Chris and Randy, who also hosts “Da Radio Show” on KBLA 1580 AM have surrounded themselves with executives and support staff who are also music industry veterans with an understanding of the business. So far the greatest challenge in running the program has been funding it on a yearly basis which has required the leaders to use their own money and function without sponsorships, a situation they are actively trying to remedy. There are still constant financial considerations despite the fact that some of the sponsors who have become involved include Sony Music, Universal Records and Warner Brothers, yet Chris believes the project is worth it and will continue to thrive. Aside from offering opportunities to students involving music, the organization has also set up several other after school programs to benefit schools and communities such as Healthy Leadership/Obesity Prevention, Leadership Mentoring and No Bullying.
Roker has had many memorable moments during the past eight years. Two standouts were a show they did at the Staples Center with 20 performers whose smiles for the opportunity to perform there they will always recall and a performance at Phoenix House where they spoke with and performed for troubled teens and realized the impact they made on them during the visit. However, there is another moment which Chris considers his greatest achievement to date so far which was “running the Children Stage at The Taste of Soul for 8th District Councilman and Former LA Police Chief Bernard Parks in front of 200,000 plus people on Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles. We booked all the performers, hosted and did the sound.”
Some of The School Tour’s other successes include Nikki Diaz opening up for Keyshia Cole at the Kodak Theatre, Brandon Kane and Destenee winning the Las Vegas Music Awards and Pocdawone being featured in Die Hard 4. Despite all of their accomplishments, Roker is not content to sit on his laurels. He and Randy have plans in the works to expand the program. “We're working on collaborations with other companies on the east coast and down south,” Chris shared. In the meantime he is proud to be helping emerging artists and students find their voices by providing a resource that extends beyond the capability of the school systems which is definitely a win-win for everybody.