Little Kids Rock To Honor Little Steven

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photo credit: Mark Jaworski

photo credit: Mark Jaworski

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Next week, Little Steven Van Zandt becomes a “Big Man.”

The E Street Band’s guitarist will receive the “Big Man Of The Year” award, named after his late bandmate Clarence Clemons, at Little Kids Rock‘s annual “Right 2 Rock” event on October 16th at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. The honor should be no surprise to those familiar with Van Zandt and wife Maureen’s work with the organization in recent years.

Keith Hejna, the Communications & Outreach Coordinator of Little Kids Rock, explains the goal of the national non-profit organization, which has been around for a decade. “We seek to transform children’s lives by restoring and revitalizing music education in U.S. public schools, mainly disadvantaged public schools that are threatened by budget cuts,” Hejna tells CBS Local. “As most people know, when school budgets get cut, music and arts programs are often the first to go. Little Kids Rock believes that music is a critical part of a child’s development and education. Music is a key factor in unlocking a child’s creativity.”

svz mvz little kids rock Little Kids Rock To Honor Little Steven
(photo credit: Mark Jaworski)

Like VH1’s Save The Music program, Little Kids Rock raises money to donate musical instruments to schools, but they also go beyond that. “We partner with school districts, and train teachers, for free, to teach students to play music that they are interested in: pop, rock, country, whatever they want to learn,” Hejna says.

It’s not just about getting students to mimic their heroes, either:  “We also teach children to improvise on their instruments, and to compose their own music. That’s where the creation of music comes into play.”

Past honorees of the “Big Man Of The Year” award have been Clarence Clemons, former New York Yankee turned jazz guitarist Bernie Williams, and last year, Lady Gaga.

Gaga is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan; in fact, she used Clemons on two songs on her 2011 Born This Way album, which turned out to be his final recorded performances. So her acceptance speech at the event was an emotional one: “She gave a really, really wonderful speech. She brought the whole room to tears, crying. She had a strong connection with Clarence.”

She also helped raise a lot of money that night. She won an auction to have dinner with Little Steven and Maureen Van Zandt, with a $13,000 bid. What restaurant did she choose? “She used to be a waitress at this Italian restaurant before she was famous, and she served Little Steven there, so that was the restaurant that she chose,” Hejna explains.

No word if Gaga will show up to this year’s event when Steven himself is being honored, but an impressive lineup of artists will be in attendance. Elvis Costello, Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Southside Johnny, American Idol‘s Kris Allen, The Big Man’s nephew (and new touring member of The E Street Band) Jake Clemons, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Dion and Darlene Love will all perform songs from Van Zandt’s career.

The poster also lists “… and more special guests.” So it could be Gaga. Or, it could be one of the other guitarists in the E Street Band.

For more information about Right 2 Rock, go to the event’s official website.

Brian Ives, CBS Local 

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