Levine Music is a preeminent center for music education in Washington DC and a community where children and adults find lifelong inspiration and joy through learning, performing, listening to, and participating with others in music. Levine was founded in 1976 in memory of Selma M. Levine, a prominent Washington attorney and an amateur pianist who took particular delight in encouraging young musicians. Jeffery is the first African American President and CEO in Levine Music’s history. I’ve known Jeffery for a minute from socializing in DC and was excited for the opportunity to chat with him about his new role.
Morgan: I nerded out a bit and did some “official” research. From your profile and history, it is clear that your passion for music is a driving force in your journey. When and where did your love of music begin?
Jeffery: My love for music began at a very early age and I come from a family of musicians so I was engulfed in it from a young age. There was a drummer at my church named Lamont and he was just so cool. I knew from that point on that I wanted to be a drummer and to take a different path from my parents who were pianists and vocalists. As young as 3, I can remember playing on paint cans in the basement, music lessons when I was 5, playing in church when I was 7 and then being in all types of music ensembles. I can remember as young as 11 or 12 being in community marching bands and continuing through middle and high school. Taking part in these was very informative not only musically but also in terms of how I approach life and leadership which I learned much later in life.
Morgan: How has music shaped who you became as a person and a man?
Jeffery: I talk often about the socio-emotional benefits of music education. I can remember being in front of my practice pad for hours working on various rudiments. In a vacuum that’s me wanting to be a better musician but on a macro level that’s discipline, even resilience if you aren’t having a good practice day. So I was able to gain all of these tools as a result of me being involved in music education and because of my dedication and persistence and resilience, it helped to unearth some innate leadership skills that I had and was later able to hone as a part of the various ensembles I have participated in throughout life. It also led to scholarships that helped with my trajectory. When I was in law school, it hit me that I wanted to be a social engineer in the world but in a very different way. Music has been like a tree that has covered me throughout life and allowed me to latch on to different branches for perspective and opportunities that have shaped my career. It even helps me connect deeper with my child through his love of music and gives us a different way to communicate.
Morgan: Why law school? People don’t always associate music and law so I’m curious how it became connected for you?
Jeffery: I went to Howard originally as a Radio, TV, and film major because my parents took me to a media camp in middle school. It was a break from my usual sports camps and I initially fell in love with being behind the camera with a goal to become an NBA cameraman. A lot of people assumed I was a music major because I had a music scholarship. My freshman year, my uncle came down and he said have you ever thought about being an entertainment lawyer since you are really passionate about music? He thought I had the skills to be an attorney so I changed my major to legal communication and really got on the law school track. I never imagined I’d practice outside of entertainment law but I always imagined being a C-Suite executive after that, I just didn’t know that I would be the CEO of a $10 Million Company.
Morgan: And Here we are!! So what inspired you to take on this role?
Jeffery: I wanted new challenges and this certainly presented new challenges as a much larger and older organization. I saw an opportunity to leverage more resources to effect community change. I also saw an opportunity to leverage a larger vehicle for change and helm a ship with a larger influence. Levine has been around for 46 years and has six campuses and 200 employees so I asked what it would mean to be at the helm of a ship that can move things in larger ways than I have over the course of the last few years running my own organization. I also saw opportunities for my family as well. When I left the Musicianship when I had a $1.2 million dollar budget and it’s not often you get to jump to a $10 million dollar budget. Initially when someone asked me about the opportunity I started to pass but my family and friends told me don’t turn down anything you do not have yet and that opportunities fly like birds. After consulting with my family I decided to go for it and I’m really happy I did.
Morgan: It’s amazing how many firsts we continue to have in 2022, talk about being the first Black President and CEO of Levine.
Jeffery: When I first announced I was going to Levine, there were some people who said, Ohh what is Levine? I think by going here, it potentially makes us more visible to an audience where we haven’t been visible to historically. We have a campus at the ARC in SE and have had a presence in SE DC for almost 30 years. Being able to have the chief executive officer as a residence in Anacostia is meaningful and a demonstration of our being vested in the community. I think it is an opportunity for us and I am incredibly honored to be amongst those who have come before me and done an amazing job to lift the organization to where it is today. I hope to explore a new approach to music education and explore community needs beyond solely music education. Kids who come through the doors to play clarinet aren’t going to play if they are hungry. Having opportunities to speak more holistically about our impact in the community is something I am excited about and comes from my own lived experience and background working with communities of color.
Morgan: What do you see next in your position at Levine and for Levine now that you are 6 months in?
Jeffery: We are going into a robust strategic planning phase to think about what the next 5 to 7 years look like. We are also in talks with other communities about our presence there. We hope to have a new home in Northern Virginia. We are also talking with strategic partners about how to target our work in different ways in local schools. I am on the Grammy DC Chapter Board and was just elected to the Washington National Opera Board and liaising with other organizations who support our work or who’s work we support. We have a DEI and Anti-Racism working group that preceded my start with Levine, that is working really hard on operationalizing a lot of vision statements that have been crafted by our staff, our faculty and our board, as well as consultants with whom we’ve worked. We are looking to find efficiencies where we can to become a more fiscally and operationally sound institution.
Morgan: Who’s running Musicianship now?
Jeffery: The Musicianship is in search of their next dynamic leader. I will continue to be an artist, ally, supporter and resource. I am excited for the organization to thrive under new leadership leveraging the resources and programs under their umbrella. I want to do everything I can to be supportive and Levine will be a sponsor for the 2022 Whammy Awards this March and look forward to forging new partnerships for the future. They have never partnered in the past and I am happy to be that bridge.
Morgan: Congratulations on the newish baby, what has being a dad taught you so far?
Jeffery: Being a dad has taught patience, and helped to be able to identify my strengths outside of being a professional. A lot of us, especially those that are ambitious, often hang our hats on our professional accomplishments but being able to dig deep and find the success in being a family man has helped me to appreciate life in a different way. It has helped me show my value proposition to the world and my family in a different way, more than merely making money and racking up achievements and it has brought me a lot of joy. It has allowed me to experience joy in a way that I haven’t before. I have gotten joy from other things in life like travel or whatever but this is something new, something fresh and despite the challenges, it’s a beautiful thing.
Morgan: If you could send a message to your younger self in Chicago, what would it be?
Jeffery: Hold On – I never anticipated this type of ride and got every grade under the sun throughout elementary, middle and high school. Ds, Fs, I got all types of grades and I never envisioned this type of success in life by any stretch. I would also tell myself to apply myself cause that wasn’t something I did as much as I could.
Morgan: So how can the community support Levine, get connected and utilize what Levine has to offer?
Jeffery: We have a donation page that is live year round – https://www.levinemusic.org/support/donate/. Levine’s offerings include private music lessons, collaborative group classes, ensembles, and rotating workshops and concert series that engage and inspire music lovers of all ages and stages. Levine also offers tuition assistance and discounts for the community.