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Chaka Fattah: Making Music Makes You Think.

June 5, 2013

ChakaFattahSmall01Congressman Chaka Fattah‘s mother was a PR person for music legends. G.W. Miller III discovers that the 10-term representative from the 2nd congressional district has pushed for music in education (including in his own household) because he knows that learning to play instruments is a key to developing critical thinking.

Your mom did PR for Sam Cooke?

Yes. Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

How did that come about?

She was a journalist in her first career, for about 20 years. That’s where she got her beginnings and she eventually went on to become the editor of the Philadelphia Tribune. She also did public relations for Otis Redding and Sam Cooke because she wrote about music and entertainment.

Did you grow up in a household with music?

I grew up in a household with five brothers and my mom and grandmom. I took piano lessons at the Heritage House, which is now Freedom Theater, and then at Settlement Music School. I don’t think the household was dominated by music but certainly my mom had a big interest in music. I had my own piano at home.

Did that help shape you as a person?

I think music is a very important part of young people’s education development. My oldest daughter, who is 14, has a piano and she plays the guitar. My 9-year-old plays the flute and is taking violin lessons. I’m really involved in neuroscience issues in Congress and one of the things we know with a certainty is that in terms of development of young minds, music adds to the architecture of the brain in ways that helps young people be able to critically think. It also helps later on in life when people get to ages when dementia sometimes slips in. There’s less of that among people who have had formal training in music.

We know that the brain, when it’s structuring itself, music helps fortify it for the long run in life. And it’s obvious that it helps young people in terms of their day-to-day educational pursuits.

Do you try to work that science into legislation or programs you sponsor?

What we’ve been trying to do is find ways that we make sure that we continue to have an appreciation for the arts and music. That happens at a variety of levels, like the National Endowment of the Arts. I’ve been one of the biggest proponents of the National Endowment while it has been under attack, for many years.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I just reacquainted myself with Graceland by Paul Simon. When Paul Simon did the Graceland tour, he picked out around 15 groups to financially benefit. The House of Umoja, which is the house I grew up in (a non-profit organization run by his parents that assists at-risk teens), financially benefited from the tour. I listened to it 25 years ago but about a month ago, I bought the 25th anniversary edition. I listen to John Legend, who I’m a super fan of. He went to Penn and he just performed for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee party in Washington. I have a wide musical taste that runs the gamut from Billy Ocean through Alicia Keys, who is probably my favorite.

On a random weekend night, when you and your wife (NBC 10 news anchor Renee Chenault Fattah) want to have a good time, where do you wind up?

We chase good music. We have some affinity for jazz. But we also frequent many of the great concerts that take place in the city. I remember Whitney Houston’s last visit to The Mann. We saw Alicia Keys at the Liacouras Center. Because we have young children with their own musical tastes, sometimes we end up taking them to see people who are not necessarily at the top of our lists.

Was your children’s involvement in music their choice?

It’s something me and my wife both encouraged. I bought my 14-year-old a piano when she was 4. She plays it every single day now. She has a drum set, an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar. She’s quite interested in music.

Do you stay in tune with Philly music?

Overbrook, GAMP (Girard Academic Music Program), the High School for Creative and Performing Arts? They are all impressive with the work and talent they are producing. From a Philadelphia standpoint, music is one of our greatest exports.

Is music a common denominator when working with colleagues in Washington?

I’ve been in Congress for 10 terms. One of my greatest memories was the night when all of the members performed in front of everyone.

Did you perform?

I did not sing. I did a Shakespeare act.

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