Music Forward Inaugural Brunch

The sun rose over The Hollywood Bowl on the morning of October 1st, 2023, as nearly 200 music and live entertainment industry professionals, educators, musicians, and more gathered to celebrate changemakers and thought leaders in the industry and enjoy a spectacular sustainable and plant-based brunch. 

The Inaugural Music Forward Brunch kicked off at 10 am that day with guests arriving at the iconic Los Angeles venue to a rooftop reception with cocktails, hors devours, and music by Music Forward Alum, Hannah Abrahim, accompanied by her guitarist & harpist setting the tone perfectly for the morning of smiles, warmth, and hope that was to follow. 

By 11 o’clock guests were ushered down to the Kagan Patio for brunch and the awards celebration deejayed by KCRW radio host Raul Campos. Inspired by Tour Honoree: Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever, The World Tour, the menu served was entirely plant-based and all silverware and paper products were either recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable. Guests found their seats and the award presentation got underway. 

Music Forward Executive Director, Nurit Smith, welcomed the excited crowd and thanked them all for being a part of a movement striving for positive change in the music industry and beyond, a mission Music Forward has been pursuing for the past 30 years and encouraged all in attendance to keep pushing our industry, communities, and society forward. 

Lesley Olenick, VP of Touring at Live Nation, presented the first award of the morning to Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever, The World Tour, for striving for sustainability and eco-consciousness in every aspect of the tour. From reusable water bottles to providing sustainability resources to concertgoers, the tour went above and beyond to leave a mark on the world but not on the environment. Lesley got emotional as she thanked Billie for always striving to do better and inspiring her to do the same. Maggie Baird, Billie’s mother, accepted the award on behalf of the tour, and Billie herself graced the stage screens to thank the foundation for the award. 

Music Forward Alum, Leslie Montoya, followed. Taking the stage with all the energy and personality one could expect from the budding radio professional, Leslie explained to the crowd her journey with Music Forward and the resources it provided her that helped her find her way in the industry and land her the experience and full-time position she holds today. 

Next up, the one and only actor/percussionist, J Alphonse Nicholson (P Valley, Blue Bloods, and They Cloned Tyrone) presented the Festival Honoree: Broccoli City. Recalling back to when he and founder Brandon met, J Alphonse spoke not just to the festival but the full social enterprise that he watched Broccoli City turn into. From iconic festival performances to an app that encourages people to volunteer and give back to their community in turn for music-based incentives, and much more, Broccoli City inspires unity, charity, and community across the country. 

Another Music Forward Alum, Latisha Stephens, followed, telling her story of interning for the first time with Music Forward, then securing an internship through the foundation with BMG that has since gone on to become a full-time position. 

Next, the presentation went back to the roots of Music Forward with the Venue Honoree: House of Blues. Michael Grozier, an employee of the original House of Blues, and former member of the Music Forward Foundation Board presented the award. Michael talked about the ideals that House of Blues was founded on, “Unity in Diversity” & “Help Ever. Hurt Never.” and how those principles have continued to be upheld into the venue that it is today. He also spoke of the creation of Music Forward, formerly the International House of Blues Foundation, and how it spoke to the very core of what the House of Blues was trying to do and how rewarding it has been to watch and be a part of the programs they have provided since then.

After the presentation of the Venue Honoree, the lens shifted from the industry itself to the pipeline that feeds it. Music Forward’s Director of Learning & Career Advancement, Laura Clark & Dolby Institute’s Sr. Manager of Education Partnerships & Impact, Simone Price, presented the Educator Honoree: Allison Frenzel. The two spoke of Allison as a creative powerhouse as she kept the arts at the forefront of her work at the California Department of Education and everything she does. Working with Music Forward she has helped to bring programs to high schools across Southern California, to incarcerated youth in Kings County, and launch Music Forward’s CA state apprenticeships. 

The final Music Forward Alum of the morning, Despues Green, is the 2023 David E. Ballard Scholarship recipient. Despues went on to talk about his passion for impact and the change Music Forward is making with their programs. Coming from having experienced homelessness and the foster care system, Despues strives to create a real impact in his communities and those that are similar, and, in his words, having organizations like Music Forward around with similar goals gives him hope in the fulfillment of that dream. 

The final honoree of the night had a trifecta of presenters. Tatia Adams Fox, from presenting sponsor, American Express, Desmond Braxton, Howard University Alum, and artist Estelle. The three had the honor of recognizing Executive Honoree: Julian Petty. They all spoke of Julian’s impact on the industry as well as those who are looking to enter it. Desmond has been directly impacted by Julian’s work helping to create the Warner/Blavantnik Center at Howard University. The center helps prepare diverse young people for a career in music and helps them get the resources to one day join Julian in the executive suite. Estelle has been impacted by Julian’s passion and drive to always put artists first. With his position of EVP Head of Business & Legal Affairs at Warner Records and his previous work at private law firms, Julian makes a point to always advocate for the artist and make sure they are protected and flourishing under his legal guidance. Julian’s impact on the industry was exemplified as he accepted his award to a standing ovation, a stellar way to wrap up the award presentation. 

The event ended with a performance by Music Forward Foundation alum singer-songwriter Alina Hernandez singing back-up for Kori Withers showing off her father’s hits “Just The Two of Us,” “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day,” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”   

To top it all off, the Music Forward Team surprised Executive Director, Nurit with a certificate from the County of Los Angeles commemorating the Foundation’s impact over the last 30 years. It was a fabulous event of shining faces, a few teary eyes, and joy of being able to work, inspire, and come together and empowered by music.

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