News Column

Metro East musicians play for school supplies

July 18, 2014

By Jill Moon, The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.



July 18--ST. LOUIS -- Riverbend favorites Off The Shoulder and The Ralph Butler Band perform for KidSmart as it kicks off its annual "Push for Pencils" August School Supply Drive with a free concert at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Ralph Butler started the free concert for the cause four years ago at what now is the Liberty Bank Alton Amphitheater. The benefit concert is in its fourth year, and its the second year it will be at the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. The concert is from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday July 27.

"It was slow the first few years, not many proceeds," Butler recalled about the reason for changing venues."But it still benefits all school districts in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including Metro East. I like kids and wanted to do something for the betterment of kids."

Butler heard about KidSmart from a teacher and got in touch with its president Jennifer Miller.

"I really like what they do," he said. "They give a certain amount free each month throughout the school year. Teachers come in with a voucher to a warehouse and take the supplies back to school."

KidSmart's mission is to ensure that children and their classrooms in the greater metropolitan St. Louis area have the basic tools for learning by transferring, at no cost, the community's surplus supplies and merchandise into the hands of teachers for school children in need. Concert guests are asked to bring new school supplies or contributions for the "Push for Pencils" campaign.

"They can bring pencils, paper, erasers, backpacks, notebooks," Butler listed among other school supply items.

Along with The Ralph Butler Band and Off The Shoulder, musicians Tom Byrne with a jazz quartet and the Inner City Blues Band with Skeet also will play.

"Skeet is a great blues singer. I recently saw him and it reminded me how great he and his band are," Butler said. "I really tried to mix it up and have variety."

Off the Shoulder puts its own spin on a great variety of hits, from Adele to Alanis Morissette, Coldplay to country, The Beatles to Bonnie Raitt, and much more. Off The Shoulder is made up of Gigi Darr on keyboard, Christine Banda Banks on violin, Randy Banks on drums, and Sharon Spence Korn on vocals.

Banda Banks, who is an elementary orchestra director for the Hazelwood School District in St. Louis County, is the group's violin virtuoso. She graduated with a master's of music degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City and held principal and section positions with the Florida Orchestra, the Illinois Symphony, the Charlotte, N.C. Symphony and the Colorado Springs Symphony. She also has been on the faculty at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, performed with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and toured as principal violist for the National Broadway Production of "Miss Saigon." She is a violist with Configurations, and a freelance musician performing with the Saint Louis Ballet Orchestra and the Muny.

Randy Banks' performance experience covers a wide variety of styles, including orchestral, Dixieland jazz, theater, and rock and roll, playing with indie rock band Cool Beans, and a nationally recognized Kiss tribute band, Kings of the Nighttime World. He also plays drums currently in the variety band St. Louis Express, is a percussionist with the Alton Symphony Orchestra, teaches private lessons and in the Lewis and Clark Community College preparatory program, and is a percussion coach for the Alton Youth Symphony.

Darr is a classically trained pianist with a bachelor's of arts degree in music, and her talent is well-known to area music lovers. She is a piano teacher, a solo performer at parties, weddings and corporate events, playing a variety of styles, and also a member of the Ralph Butler Duo and the Ralph Butler Trio, performing in and around the St. Louis region.

Korn earned a theater performance degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She previously performed as a singer with The Basics, a guitar-driven, rock and roll band, and performed the title role in "Always, Patsy Cline" at St. Louis' Grandel Square Theatre.

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(c)2014 The Telegraph (Alton, Ill.)

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Source: Telegraph (Alton, IL)


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