Philadelphia public high school Hill-Freedman World Academy and World Cafe Live have been in partnership since 2016, committed to in-depth music education and lifting student voices through the school’s record label, Hill-Freedman Records. Hill-Freedman Records has produced 6 albums of original student music, all co-produced with World Cafe Live, and each the culmination of the year-long music technology curriculum that is integral to the school’s International Baccalaureate program. Music Technology teacher Ezechial Thurman leads the program, which involves all 10th grade students in the album-making, together with other students, some of whom serve as student producers. A team of World Cafe Live teaching artists is in-residence throughout the year, mentoring students in songwriting, production, recording and performance. The school draws students from across the city, and their music has been honored in Philadelphia City Council.
Growing Up Black
GROWING UP BLACK is the sixth album from Hill-Freedman Records, led by Music Technology teacher Ezechial Thurman, produced in partnership with World Cafe Live. The album features 34 original songs all written, recorded, and produced by the 10th grade class at Philly public high school Hill-Freedman World Academy.
The songs on GROWING UP BLACK amplify students’ perspectives on the challenges of the past several years, from the pandemic to racialized violence, and how music, in the words of teacher Thurman, “can be a force that helps promote positive change in our world.”
Hill-Freedman Records launched the making of its 6th album by exploring and celebrating the music of artists and producers from diverse genres from Pop to Reggae and Country. These artists and producers, who included Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Bob Marley, and Charlie Pride spanned decades and represented a range of musical genres and cultures. As part of Hill-Freedman World Academy’s Music Technology course (an integral part of the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum), and under the leadership of teacher Ezechial Thurman and WHYY Media Lab’s Lisa Wilk, 10th graders at Hill-Freedman created video documentaries about these artists, and researched their music to find inspiration for their own songwriting. From this research, and from the students’ own experiences and stories, the theme of “Growing Up Black” emerged as a theme for the album.
In the second half of the school year, Mr. Thurman and the students, were joined by a team of teaching artists from Hill-Freedman’s long-time lead partner, World Cafe Live. WCL teaching artists Kristal Oliver, Bethlehem the Vocussionist and Andrew Lipke collaborated with Mr. Thurman, joined by a group of student producers–veterans of past Hill-Freedman Records albums. Working in the Music Technology Lab and the school’s recording studio, this collective nurtured the creation of the 34 songs that make up this album.
Direct support for this project has been provided by Former Philadelphia City Council member Cherelle L. Parker (9th District), Spring Point Partners, the Les Paul Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation and the School District of Philadelphia, as well as additional foundations and individuals. World Cafe Live is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Director, Hill-Freedman Records: Ezechial Thurman
Songwriting, Music Composition & Production Teaching Artists : Kristal Oliver; Andrew Lipke; Bethlehem the Vocussionist; Ezechial Thurman
Vocal producing by Kristal Oliver
Album engineered & mixed by Kristal Oliver, Andrew Lipke, Calvin Price, DeCarrio Graham & Ezechial Thurman. Mastered by Andrew Lipke.
Consulting producer: Anthony Majewski, head of school
Album art design by Megan Early and Ibrahim Yansaneh (HFWA Class of 2023)
Love & Healing
LOVE & HEALING is an album of 32 original student songs from Hill-Freedman Records, the record label of Philadelphia public high school Hill-Freedman World Academy of the School District of Philadelphia, co-produced by World Cafe Live. The album, a central component of Hill-Freedman’s IB Design/Music Technology curriculum in the school’s International Baccalaureate Programme, was made over the course of the 2020-21 school year, in a collaboration that involved all 10th grade students, school leadership, artists from World Cafe Live, fellows from the national service initiative ArtistYear and WHYY Media Labs.
Hill-Freedman Records is led by Music Technology teacher Ezechial Thurman. LOVE & HEALING is the label’s fifth album, all of which have been made in partnership with World Cafe Live. A trio of World Cafe Live teaching artists—composer/songwriter/producer Andrew Lipke, Grammy-nominated songwriter Kristal “Tytewriter” Oliver and songwriter/performer Bethlehem the Vocussionist (Bethlehem Roberson)—all acclaimed for their performing and recording, joined Thurman, ArtistYear fellow Matt Evans and Anna Sudderth and WHYY’s Sam Dellert in the collaboration, which took place almost entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key to the process was a group of student producers, all veterans of past Hill-Freedman Records albums (including one recent alumnus), mentored the 10th grade students in their songwriting.
The album grew from the students’ exploration of the lives and artistic legacies of musical legends who passed away over the past few years. This exploration focused particularly on songs in the artists’ catalogs that still resonate with their themes of love and healing. These artists, including Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Little Richard, DMX, Dr. John, Eddie Van Halen, Jessye Norman and McCoy Tyner, spanned decades and represented a range of musical genres and racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The songs on LOVE & HEALING amplify students’ perspectives on the challenges of the past two years, from the pandemic to racialized violence, and how music, in the words of teacher Thurman, “can be good medicine.”
Thurman, who founded Hill-Freedman Records in 2016 and is a veteran of more than 20 years in the Philadelphia School District, says that the label aims to be a force for good in the city. “Our music hopes to meet a need in our community as we focus on the importance of more love and healing after a year of virtual learning and navigating through the pandemic,” he commented. “In difficult times, music can help us heal.”
In the fall and winter of 2020-2021, Thurman, the ArtistYear fellows and the WHYY Media Labs team delved into the legacies of more than a dozen artists, with particular focus on what made their music endure and how iconic songs like Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” offered lasting inspiration for those in difficulty.
When the trio of World Cafe Live artists joined, the focus shifted to the students’ own music-making, done entirely through virtual processes that included Zoom meetings, home recordings and students’ digital music-making.
In the fall of 2021, video artist Naeem Murdic joined Thurman and the students to produce a video of the title track, which culminates in a collage of local celebrities, including Avonte Maddox, Jordan Mailata and Rodney McLeod of the Philadelphia Eagles, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, PA State Rep. Chris Rabb and City Council members Cherelle L. Parker and Derek Green, joining for the final chorus, “Let the love heal ya.”
Direct support for this project has been provided by Philadelphia City Council member Cherelle L. Parker (9th District), Spring Point Partners, the Les Paul Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation and the School District of Philadelphia, as well as additional foundations and individuals. World Cafe Live is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Director, Hill-Freedman Records: Ezechial Thurman
Songwriting, Music Composition & Production Teaching Artists: Andrew Lipke; Kristal Oliver; Bethlehem the Vocussionist; Ezechial Thurman
Vocal producing by Kristal Oliver
Album engineered & mixed by Andrew Lipke, Kristal Oliver & Ezechial Thurman. Mastered by Andrew Lipke.
ArtistYear Fellows: Matt Evans and Anna Sudderth
Video Production: Sam Dellert & WHYY Media Labs; Naeem Murdic
Hill-Freedman Records Student Producers: Mitchell Brown (HFWA Class of 2022); Camya Bradley, Ebony Edwards, Christian Harrison, Adorah Jones, Jaelynn Pearson, Donovan Smith (HFWA Class of 2021); Rajah Goldstein (HFWA Class of 2020).
Consulting producer: David Bradley, World Cafe Live
Album art design by Aisha Bailey (HFWA Class of 2021) & Melinda Steffy
Liner notes design by Melinda Steffy
Things That Matter
Since 2016, we have been in partnership with Philadelphia public high school Hill-Freedman World Academy, collaborating with Music Technology Teacher Ezechial Thurman in support of his program and Hill-Freedman Records, the school’s record label, part of the IB Design/Music Technology curriculum of the school’s International Baccalaureate Programme. Our partnership with Hill-Freedman represents our commitment to be a place where artistry meets social impact.
In 2020, Hill-Freedman Records released THINGS THAT MATTER, an album of 20 original student songs co-produced by World Cafe Live, the fourth album on which we have partnered. Begun as an in-school project in the fall of 2019, the collaboration shifted to Zoom in April 2020 once schools shut down due to the pandemic. The album stands as a testament to the creativity and voices of young people speaking to a turbulent moment in our country.
A team of acclaimed Philly artists from World Cafe Live—composer/producer Andrew Lipke, hip hop artist Chill Moody and songwriter/producer Kristal “Tytewriter” Oliver—joined Mr.Thurman and ArtistYear fellow Justin Jaramillo and marketing and promotion teaching artist Ikeya Sade to collaborate with the students. Students created samples, original beats and digital tracks and composed poetry and lyrics. When the pandemic struck, students and adults committed to making the album virtually. Though it was not a required activity, the project became a passion for a core of more group of students. The result was a process of Zoom meetings and home production, online recording sessions and collaboration-by-text.
The murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the need to confront systemic racism and injustice in society challenged, outraged, and inspired the student artists. Songs on this album call for speaking up, standing up, and needing to move from cynicism to action. The title track, written, produced, and performed by 9th grader Jehmir Nixon, takes its name from Martin Luther King Jr’s declaration, “Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter.” The lead-off track, “Show Me,” written, produced and performed by 11th grader Samuel Smith, begins with the honest question, “Don’t you think we’re tired of this,” and moves on to proclaim, “We use our voices to create a solution.”
“I hope that it helps people see what we see,” 11th grader Camya Bradley said of the album, “and that if they were asleep to the things in the world, I hope it wakes them up.”
Support for this album was provided in part by:
The Barra Foundation; CHG Charitable Trust; Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker, 9th District; The Horner Foundation; The Independence Foundation; LiveConnections Kids Count Campaign; Patricia Kind Family Foundation; The Philadelphia School Partnership; The Philadelphia Activities Fund; The Presser Foundation; The Scholler Foundation; The School District of Philadelphia; The Seybert Foundation; Spring Point Partners; The Wyncote Foundation.
Songwriting, Music Composition & Production Teaching Artists: Andrew Lipke; Chill Moody; Kristal Oliver; Ezechial Thurman
Marketing & Promotion Teaching Artist: Ikeya Sade
ArtistYear Fellow: Justin Jaramillo
Poetry Teaching Artists: Jasmine Combs; Trapeta Mayson
WCL Producer: David Bradley
Vocal producing by Kristal Oliver. Album engineered & mixed by Andrew Lipke, Kristal Oliver & Ezechial Thurman. Mastered by Andrew Lipke.
Wake Up Everybody
WAKE UP EVERYBODY is the third album created from the partnership between World Cafe Live (formerly LiveConnections) and Philadelphia public high school Hill-Freedman World Academy (HFWA).
The collection of 21 original student songs (and a cover of the 1970’s classic title song) takes its inspiration from the mission, songs and style of Philadelphia International Records. The influential label, founded in 1971 by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, produced the renowned “Sound of Philadelphia.”
The album is the culmination of a year-long project led by HFWA Music Technology teacher Ezechial Thurman and a team of LiveConnections teaching artists: Andrew Lipke, Kristal Oliver, Luke Carlos O’Reilly and LiveConnections Founding Director David Bradley.
Over the course of the 2018-2019 school year, as part of the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, all of HFWA’s 10th graders and a cohort of 11th and 12th graders dug into the Philadelphia International catalogue. Students drew inspiration from the label’s focus on “music with a message,” while also drawing on contemporary R & B, pop and hip-hop.
With guidance from Thurman, Lipke, O’Reilly and Grammy-nominated songwriter Oliver, the students wrote lyrics, individually and in whole class collaborations. Many tracks feature original student musical composition and production, a hallmark of the Music Technology program led by Thurman.
Other tracks feature LiveConnections artists and special guests, including Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia William R. Hite Jr., as well as notable Philadelphia musicians Laurin Talese (winner of the 2018 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition), rapper Chill Moody and keyboardist Eric Wortham II, a Hill-Freedman alumnus who has toured with Adele and Jill Scott. Eric Westbrook, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement, and Frank Machos, Executive Director of the Office of Arts & Academic Enrichment for the District, also appear on the record.
HFWA 10th grader Jaelynn Pearson said of the process, “Writing is a way to be heard when you feel like no one is listening. And with our LiveConnections artists, I knew I was being listened to; they’ve encouraged me so much to push myself harder and listen to myself. We have a story that is important to listen to and we can shine light where you can’t see.”
The original songs follow the title’s exhortation to “wake up” to what the world, and the students, are facing today. The album moves from the personal to the global, with students singing about love and family, social justice, their futures and the need to come together in a divided world.
Christian Harrison (10th grade HFWA), drums
Andrew Lipke, bass
Luke Carlos O’Reilly, keys
The Philadelphia Tribune: High-Schoolers’ Original Album Pays Tribute to Philly International – Hill-Freedman World Academy high school student Joshua Banton wasn’t familiar with the music of Philadelphia International Records, the influential label founded in 1971 by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff which produced the…
Philadelphia Citizen: The (New) Sound of Philly – When Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff produced the album “Wake Up Everybody” on the Philadelphia International Records label in 1975, could they—or anyone—have known just how prescient the title track’s lyrics would turn out to be? Wake up everybody no more sleepin’…
6ABC: LiveConnections Works to Create the Next Generation of Musicians – LiveConnections is a local nonprofit specializing in music education and collaborative concerts. “We believe in giving voices that haven’t had a chance to be heard, a place to be heard and we believe music can be a powerful force for social…
Also featured on WURD 96.1 FM and 900 AM
What's Going On
When a school committed to innovation joins forces with a team of acclaimed artists the impact is exponential.
“What’s Going On” was LiveConnections’ second songwriting and album-producing project with Philadelphia public high school Hill-Freedman World Academy and our third with music technology teacher Ezechial Thurman. The collaboration provided unique opportunities for students to experience world-class music and create their own songs in response to what’s going on in their lives.
As part of Hill-Freedman’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, the entire 10th and 11th grades spent the year examining the songs and artistry of Motown, how music helps shape culture and how their own creative risk-taking could provoke positive change in the world.
Working in the school’s music technology lab, students explored computer-based music production, composition and songwriting under the leadership of Mr.Thurman.
They were joined in the lab for weekly sessions in poetry, lyric writing and music production with LiveConnections teaching artists Luke Carlos O’Reilly, Yolanda Wisher, Kristal “Tytewriter” Oliver and Andrew Lipke, and had opportunities to collaborate with additional musicians in the songwriting and recording process.
The year-long collaboration culminated in June 2018 with the release of WHAT’S GOING ON by the school’s student-led record label Hill-Freedman Records. The album features 23 student-written songs and one Motown cover, with half the songs fully student-produced.
The students were influenced both by Motown and contemporary music, and the songs take on themes of love, personal struggle, and important issues in the world today.
Listen to the Album
“What’s Going On” was made possible with support from: The School District of Philadelphia; The Philadelphia Cultural Fund; Philadelphia City Council members Allan Domb (At-Large) and Cherelle L. Parker (9th District); The NBCUniversal Foundation, NBC10 and Telemundo62; Patricia Kind Family Foundation; The Scholler Foundation and The Seybert Foundation.
Hill-Freedman World Academy:
- Anthony Majewski, Head of School/PrincipalAlbum Executive Producer
- Ezechial Thurman, Music Technology Teacher; music composition & production; Album Producer
- Julian Harris, music composition & production
- David Bradley: LiveConnections Founding Director; Album Producer
- Andrew Lipke: music composition & production; Album Producer
- Kristal Oliver: songwriting & vocal coaching/producing; Album Producer
- Luke Carlos O’Reilly: music composition & production; Album Producer
- Yolanda Wisher: poetry & lyric writing
Musicians: Mario Crew (drums), Julian Harris (guitar), Andrew Lipke (guitar, bass), Anwar Marshall (drums), Kristal Oliver (backing vocals), Luke Carlos O’Reilly (keys), Ben O’Neill (guitar), Nimrod Speaks (bass).
Album engineered and mixed by Julian Harris, Andrew Lipke and Kristal Oliver. Mastered by Julian Harris.
Album cover art by Aniya Addison, 12th grade, Hill-Freedman World Academy.