“Open up your heart, Love’s the answer, We will find a way
Open up your soul, Love’s the answer, We can heal today”
—From “Love & Healing,” lyrics by Rajah Goldstein & AFM
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.”
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
About Hill-Freedman World Academy
Hill-Freedman World Academy is a special admission middle and high school in Northwest Philadelphia. We proudly serve students with a variety of backgrounds, talents, and needs. Through its International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma programs, Hill-Freedman World Academy provides a rigorous academic environment that inspires individuality and fosters lifelong learners who are committed to being knowledgeable, caring, internationally-minded global citizens. Hill-Freedman is a school where “All Means All” and where students are challenged and encouraged to develop their creative talents, even those yet to be discovered.
Thanks to Our Supporters
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.