Local musician wins Lincoln Center honor

“Music has the power to bridge political, cultural, language and generational differences with audiences around the world,” said Maura M. Pally, acting assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. “Through music we can celebrate both cultural diversity and common ground.”

It is with this in mind that Lincoln Center, in collaboration with the United States Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, began the Rhythm Road American Music Abroad program in 2005. This project annually identifies a number of bands from around the country who complete a rigorous application process. They audition in front of a select group of prominent musicians affiliated with Lincoln Center, as well as U.S. diplomats, and then wait to see if they are among the special few who are honored.

CHEN LO AND THE LIBERATED—Family members from left: Kyle (DJ Scandales) Clinton, Chenits (Chen Lo) Pettigrew, Ken White and Pamela (Baassik) Jennett.

That wait ended this past November in a resoundingly “yes” for educator, musician, humanitarian, and artist Chenits R. Pettigrew and his band, Chen Lo and the Liberated Family, when they were informed by the selection committee that they had been selected as one of 10 bands who would be a part of the Lincoln Center 2010 Rhythm Road Tour. Groups fortunate enough to receive the honor of being selected will travel around the globe for approximately one month from March through December 2010. The purpose is to promote cross-cultural understanding, with a special emphasis on countries not often visited by American musicians.

The 30-year-old Pittsburgh native, and son of Chenits and Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, and his band will travel to four countries in Africa. The tours will include public concerts, master classes, lecture-demonstrations, workshops, jam sessions, collaborations with local musicians and media outreach. Performing since he was 15, Pettigrew’s advanced skills and musical accomplishments make him highly qualified to take on such a sojourn. Applicants had to have a high degree of musicianship, be able to show experience in conducting music education workshops and have an affinity for and sensitivity to forming and maintaining international relationships.

Early in his career, while an employee of Urban Youth Action, Pettigrew was invited to take part in “The Arts Greenhouse Project,” a pilot program held at Carnegie Mellon University. This initiative was designed to offer educational opportunities to urban youths about hip-hop as an art, and as an entrepreneurial opportunity.

“I knew it was an important opportunity for inner-city youth. The resources made available by CMU were invaluable in helping them learn how multi-dimensional this industry could be—and to see that it was more than just performance.” he said. “At the same time I knew it (hip-hop) could be an important tool and viable genre to evoke change.”

The larger vision for his work brought about a hip-hop education series called “Creative Liberation” that has run successfully in Pittsburgh as well as other cities. Through these forums he uses hip-hop as an avenue to engage the sensibilities of young audiences around the impact of some of the controversial lyrics. More specifically, he has two workshops that target extreme lyrics. “Every Woman,” a Lil Wayne song, contains a graphic depiction of the artist’s goal to have sex with every woman in the world. The other song analyzed in the workshop is “Birthday Sex” by Jeremiah. As the title states, the song is a discussion of what he plans on doing to his girlfriend for her birthday.

His workshops cover a wide range of prevailing issues that audiences of hip-hop deal with on a daily basis, they include many of the topics generally covered in the songs—gang violence, substance abuse, police brutality and dysfunctional family dynamics, to name a few. He said, “Once engaged with these youth, you don’t talk to them about the ‘wrong’ in misogyny, but you dissect the lyrics and the video.”

A graduate of North Hills High School, Pettigrew received his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Penn State University and his master’s degree at Gallatin School of Individualize Study at NYU in Music Business, Music Technology and Art and Social Change, a program designed for him.

Previous travels have allowed him to witness firsthand the global connection around hip-hop, which is why he sees it as a means to explore young people’s attitudes about other aspects of life.

“This is just one reason why being a part of the Rhythm Road Tour is so important,” said Pettigrew, “It will allow me yet another opportunity to give young people a lens by which they can transform themselves by taking an introspective look at the music that is an essential piece of their lifestyle.”

Service in this way is important to him and he gives the credit to his parents who through the years set an example by their own service.

“My parents have fueled my drive and passion to expand my service to others. I’ve watched them over the years; they’ve been to most continents on this earth—much of that time working, serving, giving and enhancing the lives of others,” he said.

“I am blessed to have come to such an early realization of my life mission. This opportunity with the Rhythm Tour affords me as an individual to come away improved. I expect to come out of this as a better artist, a better person, a better humanitarian with an even better understanding of my purpose and yet still striving to become a master musician, a poet, a performing artist and a teacher ever impacting how others live.”

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