Playing for Change — making beautiful music for social change

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The scene at the 2024 Playing for Change Foundation Impact Awards at the Rubell Museum in Miami, Florida.

“Why don’t you go to events in Miami?” people ask. For many like myself, it’s a bedroom community. It’s definitely a body community: toned and tan. People seemingly spend days working out, and nights showing it off.

The Playing for Change Foundation Impact Awards gala changed that. People flew in from New York and Europe; drove in from Palm Beach; came out of their Miami cocoons. It was thanks to co-chairs Whitney Kroenke and Nick Silverstein; Karolina Kurkova and Archie Drury; Sandra and Howard Hoffen.

Friends that showed up for Sandy Hoffen: Blaine Trump, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother author Amy Chua and her constitutional law expert husband Jed Rubenfeld, Uber lawyer Alex Spiro (currently representing the families of the hostages suing Iran, Alec Baldwin, Elon Musk and Eric Adams), uber publicists Peggy Siegal (“They’re giving kids guitars instead of guns,” said Peggy) and Paul Wilmot. Even Miami Heat President Pat Riley’s wife Chris made a rare non-Heat related appearance.

Alex Spiro, Blaine Trump, and Chris Riley.

Honorees Grammy-nominated artist Ellie Goulding, and Grammy Award-winning DJ and producer Diplo performed. Honorees Andrea and Veronica Bocelli appeared virtually.

Gender bending duo SOFI TUKKER headlined the afterparty across the street at trendy Superblue Miami.

Randi Wolfson and Chris Adamo; Ginger Harris and Jorge Camaraza; Ann Kroenke; Erica and Mark Mutchnik; James Provencher and Craig Baldino; John G. Shedd IVand Mike Lundberg; Ronnie Madra; Linda and Tom Rizk; Pamela Silva; and Ana and Sean Wolfington made up the host committee.

Honoree Ellie Goulding performing.

Ellie Goulding.
Grammy-nominated duo SOFI TUKKER.
Tucker & Diplo.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel activation.

“Playing for Change Foundation was built on the idea that we can lift up the next generation through music,” said CEO Jake Groshong. “That, although a community may be economically poor, they may have little to nothing they can call their own, they are rich in culture.”

Their community work starts with music programs that embrace local culture and history. Then they address local needs, often partnering with other organizations.

Whitney Kroenke Silverstein, Sofi Tukker’s Tucker Halpern and Sophie Hawley-Weld, and Jake Groshong.

Towards that end, they have provided 200 staff, teachers, and community leaders to more than 60 locations in 20 countries and territories, including Mali, Morocco, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Jordan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Argentina, South Dakota, and Miami.

Whitney Kroenke Silverstein and Ellie Goulding.

It all began with Whitney Kroenke Silverstein and her love of music. When her buddy and co-founder Mark Johnson (Paul Simon’s sound engineer), told her, “I’m hearing better music on the way to the studio than in it,” she told me, “I decided to figure out a way to record street musicians in their natural environment across America.”

That became a documentary. Then, they wanted to explore the concept globally. While making the second movie, they had a real calling to go back into those communities to work with them on a deeper level. “That documentary became a six-year project that rolled into this nonprofit, which went from a small backyard music program in 2007 to 63 programs in 21 countries.

“We knew we were going to help with music and art education. But, we’re doing work now on things that we never anticipated. Because music is such a joyful thing, it opened up honest conversations that lead us into social impact work.

“In Nepal, it grew into sex trafficking work, because the mothers in the village warned about it in songs. In northern Africa, it lead to desiccation projects. We are now in refugee camps, dealing with high suicide rate. That’s an issue facing Indian reservations as well. So, music is a really amazing vehicle to figure out what is needed and how to help.”

Playing For Change Co-Chairs Archie Drury, Nick Silverstein, Whitney Kroenke Silverstein, Sandra and Howard Hoffen, and Ana and Sean Wolfington.

Playing for Change created a state-of-the-art cultural campus in northern Ghana. The organization also reaches 3,000 women in rural Nepal to combat human trafficking, gender-based violence and caste discrimination. In Uganda’s Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, they are feeding 1,000 South Sudanese refugees with an innovative Agrofarm program. In Morocco’s Sahara Desert they teach sustainable agricultural practices to reverse desertification. Now, they are in Miami with Young Musicians Unite, an in-school music education at 40 Title 1 Schools, that has increased school attendance and mitigated drop-outs. And much, much more.

Young Musicians Unite.
The Mutiny Club dancers.

“It’s growing incredibly fast,” said super model and Miami resident Karolina Kurkova, whose husband Archie Drury has been on the board five years. “Its members are very passionate about it.”

Archie Drury and Karolina Kurkova.

“I grew up in the Czech Republic with a grandfather who played piano, harmonica and accordion,” she said of her connection to the cause. “He would always play for us, sing with us. When I work on set, music gives you that happy feeling, uplifts you if you’re feeling down. Playing for Change is using it as a healing vehicle and a bridge to towards economic sustainability.

“My three-year-old daughter loves music too. She points to the instruments in music videos, and loves to dance, sing and perform. I didn’t learn an instrument as a child, but I want to take piano lessons with my daughter, maybe even next year.”

Music was also key to Whitney’s art. She was a professional jazz, modern and musical theater dancer for 20 years. “So music has always literally and figuratively moved me,” she said. “It’s the heartbeat that ignites me. And it’s the soul of my joy to be able to share that with kids who may not have a lot of chance for inspiration and acquiring a sense of self.

Where to next? ”There’s a lot of musical history everywhere,” Whitney told me. “We have programs in Brazil. And I would love to see us go further into South America, to explore the West Africans that came there in the slave trade. I would love to go to Argentina and explore the history that comes out of the Bossa Nova.

“We started our work overseas, but, it’s slowly coming back to the US. I’d like to go to Appalachia, where music was such a part of history telling.”

It’s easy to see why a cause like this is drawing New York and international philanthropists into its fold.

“Playing for Change is exactly what I did for all those years,” said Bill Roedy, who lives here full time and even ran for Miami Beach Mayor. As Chairman and CEO of MTV International (MTVNI), he built a global operation of 200 channels (including MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central) in 200 countries, was an AIDS activist who founded the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and chaired amFAR, was first Envoy for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), among other accomplishments.

The foundation’s inaugural gala honored Bill Roedy in 2019.

“PFC uses music around the world that reflects the local culture to do good things. So for me it’s perfect. In the four years I’ve been involved, it has accelerated at a much faster pace than any of the health initiatives I’ve been involved with. It’s making a big impact.”

Blaine Trump moved down here in 2006, “And I love it,” she said. “Miami has everything. I love New York too and go back-and-forth.” Blaine has concentrated her philanthropy in Manhattan, continuing to champion God’s Love We Deliver that she started in the ’80s. “But, I love what this charity does,” she mused about branching into it. “So, who knows?”

Chris Riley, with Howard and Sandra Hoffen.

Similarly, even though Sandy and Howard Hoffen have owned a home in Miami Beach for 20 years, this is their first charity in the town. Howard’s on the board. Sandy’s bringing visibility. “I think Miami is booming,” she told me. “ You’re going to see many more of these kinds of events in the future. Playing for Change is going to lead that. I predict it will become the go-to gala of the Miami season.”

L. to r.: Greeters; Rouslana Andriyanova.
Pamela Silva and Estefania Diaz-Balart.
Louis Montalvo.
L. to r.: Diplo and Ellie Goulding; Peter Tunney.
Marty Gellar, Simone Levinson, and Paul Wilmot.
Ann Kroenke, Rob Harrison, and Fran Welek.
Louis Upkins, Pamela Silva, Ronnie Madra, Whitney Kroenke Silverstein, Arturo Nunez, Stacey Glassman Mizener, Carolyn Glick, Hank Dudgeon, Howard Hoffen, Archie Drury, and Jake Groshong.
Joakim Noah and Note Marcato.
Elizabeth Rodriguez.

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