It’s 2:30 p.m. and Keith Urban is on carpool duty.
“I’m parked in the school line, calling you, about to pick up my daughters,” he explains. Inside, Faith and Sunday Urban are wrapping up another day of elementary school. Faith, the oldest, has been enjoying her drama classes, while Sunday is making use of the school’s music curriculum.
Urban is glad the kids go to a school that still values the arts. For the past decade, he’s been volunteering for music education programs like the Grammy Foundation, donating time – and instruments – to create the sort of environment he experienced as a public school student in Australia. On April 5th, the Recording Academy will honor Urban at this year’s Grammys on the Hill Awards, adding the hitmaker to a winner’s circle that already includes Hillary Clinton, Alicia Keys and the Zac Brown Band.
“I had it pretty lucky, growing up in a public school where a basic music class was part of the curriculum,” he says. “Our music teacher was Mrs. Grimmer, and when kids at lunchtime would go down to the oval and kick a ball around, I’d go to the music room and mess around on the guitar. I took it for granted until all these years later, where I’m looking at schools that do away with music programs quickly, because it’s seen to be the easiest thing to get rid of. I find that shocking. I’ve met so many kids over the years that use music to communicate. It’s where they get their self-esteem from. To just do away with that is scary to me.”
Held one block from the White House, the annual ceremony honors musicians and congresspeople who’ve pushed for improved music programs in America’s schools. The combination of singers and lawmakers has made for some unusual performances during ceremonies past — last year, Representative Jim Crowley hopped onstage to lead a cover of “The Weight,” with other members of Congress singing backup — but Urban is looking forward to the night. He plans to keep volunteering, too. His daughters deserve it.
“Music education is something that’s marginalized very quickly,” he laments. “It’s seen as something that can be done away with quickly, without having too much of an adverse affect on the child. People think it’s academics that’s important. They think it’s athletics that’s important. But I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those music programs in Australia. My family moved around a lot, but every public school always had a music room. There was always a music teacher.”