For 25 years, keyboardist and singer Carl Settles was an active player on the Austin music scene, performing with jazz, funk and soul outfits around town as well as his own solo project. Settles, now 47, has also been involved in education since 1995. Eight years ago, he put his own musical aspirations on the shelf to pour his energy into an after school program, E4 Youth, aimed at students in disadvantaged school districts in and around Austin.
“(I) really started to focus on how can I help creative kids realize their full potential,” Settles says.
At the time his program launched, most of the buzz in education was around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs. Despite the fact, that “creative class” is defining Austin’s growth, Settles felt like the creative kids were being left out.
“Creative kids of color and poor creative kids are really ignored,” he says. “They don’t have these outlets, they don’t get to develop their skills, they don’t have exposure to all of the benefit that the creative class is experiencing.”
E4 Youth partners with working professionals in Austin to give students practical experiences working in Austin’s creative industries. Student this year participated in workshops with representatives from Austin ad agencies, GSD&M and McGarrah Jessee and competed for opportunities to earn South by Southwest Gold badges.
In February, using donated Microsoft Surface tablets, a group of students began working on a recording project they dubbed “Legacy ATX.” Coached by Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone of rap group Riders Against the Storm, they took part in an Austin music history session led by longtime advocate, and founder of local arts nonprofit Diversarts, Harold McMillan. The session focused on the contributions of African-American Austinites to the city’s musical heritage.
Then, working with Greg Gonzalez of Grupo Fantasma and the Recording Conservancy of Austin composed, recorded and produced a five-song EP, inspired, in part by some of the things they learned. The students were involved in every aspect of the production, from the actual studio time to the graphic design and promotional materials.
With professionalism, poise and loads of heart, they debuted tracks from the EP at an end of the year ceremony at McGarrah Jessee in Downtown Austin on Thursday, May 19.