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Week of January 11, 2010

MLK: B&F keynote Johnson unites world in music

“My guest tonight thinks he can spread peace through music,” said Stephen Colbert, host of the Colbert Report and King of the Colbert Nation, one evening last August.

He was introducing Mark Johnson, Grammy award-winning music producer and engineer, film director, and creator of Playing for Change, a worldwide effort to “show us the power of what we can do if we work together,” as Johnson told Colbert.

As keynote speaker of the Business & Finance MLK Convocation, “Exploring Global Connections: Celebrating Differences and Similarities,” Johnson will share insight on how one person can be an inexorable catalyst for change, as he relates his journey and screens some of the Playing for Change global repertoire. The convocation will occur 1-3 p.m. Jan. 18 in Rackham Auditorium.

Johnson drew his initial inspiration nearly a dozen years ago from a spontaneous gathering of 200 New Yorkers who were united only by the music of two street musicians. “One of them was playing a nylon guitar and the other one was singing in a language that I didn’t understand and I imagine most people didn’t understand,” Johnson told Bill Moyers during an October 2008 Bill Moyers Journal appearance.

“And it occurred to me that, when there’s no separation between music and people, when music is just happening and people can walk by and it can affect them, then this is an opportunity for us to really find a way to bring people together.”

Playing for Change began with a video of Santa Monica street musician Roger Ridley and rapidly grew to include dozens of professional and amateur soloists and ensembles recorded in exceptional surroundings — hilltops, balconies, forests and savannahs in the United States, Congo, India, France, Italy and beyond. Johnson combines their art on CDs, CD/DVDs and in documentary film to develop music that unites the best of the world’s music.

The related nonprofit Playing for Change Foundation supports an emerging worldwide network of Playing for Change children’s music schools, the first of which opened in summer 2008 in Guguletu Township, South Africa.

For more information, go to or go to YouTube to view “Playing for Change” music videos.



Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, on her greatest passion: “Working to improve the physical and virtual accessibility to all of our community, regardless of individual physical or mental challenges.”


  • Arts & Bodies, Dec. 18-Jan. 15, 2010, Work•Detroit, 3663 Woodward Ave, Detroit
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