Billy Mitchell, Founder and Executive Director of SAPPA
Billy Mitchell is an internationally renowned jazz musician and producer, but in the Los Angeles community he is also known as a tireless leader, worker, and advocate for providing high quality music education to inner-city youth.
Born in Tarrytown and raised in Buffalo, New York, Billy tinkered with the piano as a child but did not get serious about music until he entered Morehouse College. While pursuing a political science degree he joined an off-campus jazz band and was soon playing gigs throughout the South. In 1970 Mitchell moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music and was soon backing up such artists as Ester Phillips, Randy Crawford, and Linda Hopkins.
He currently leads the Circle of Friends, an LA based jazz group that features some of the most outstanding musicians on the scene. He is also a member of The Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited, headed by Jazz legend Kenny Burrell. The Billy Mitchell Group has performed at many international music festivals, and countless club appearances. His solo career has included appearances in film, most notably Clint Eastwood’s, Bird. Billy’s solo recordings cater to both straight-ahead, be-bop and smooth jazz audiences. His refusal to limit himself creatively has earned him respect from both sides of the proverbial fence.
As a working musician, Mitchell saw that many aspects of success had less to do with talent and much to do with relationships, preparedness, professionalism, and awareness. His articles and clinics on this topic and his work with young musicians led to the publication of his book, The Gigging Musician (Rowman Littlefield Pub.) which is considered a must-read for artists,
teachers, managers, and producers.
Billy found it hard to believe that schools were eliminating the arts, the basic components necessary in a child’s overall development. So he set about developing simple, common-sense approaches for providing basic music instruction for youngsters in underserved communities. In 2002, he founded the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy (SAPPA) which has been the focus of his efforts ever since. His work with youth did not go unnoticed and soon he was consulting for Los Angeles Music Center-Spotlight Awards, Pasadena Unified School
District, California State Summer School for the Arts, and the Compton Unified School District.
In 2010, The Watts-Willowbrook Music Academy (formally the Watts-Willowbrook Conservatory) was established as a project of the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy (SAPPA). The WWMA program is part of the cultural arts strategy that creates opportunities for children who have little access to high quality music instruction. The non-tuition program provides music training in all orchestral string instruments. The WWMA was inspired by El Sistema, the world-renowned music outreach and education program in Venezuela and is currently a member of El Sistema USA.
Mitchell has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Jazz for the Next Generation Award (America West Airlines), Gold Crown Award (Pasadena Arts Council), Local Heroes Award (KCET/Union Bank), Inductee into the California Jazz, Blues Hall of Fame, Jazz Hero Award (Jazz Journalist Association), Nica Award (California Jazz Foundation) and many awards and commendations from the City and County of Los Angeles and the State of California.