Playing For Change Foundation and Theatre Within Advance John Lennon’s Vision for Peace With POWER TO THE PEOPLE Campaign

Global Initiative to Raise Awareness & Funds for Peace-Building Music Education Programs To Be Announced at 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute

NEW YORK, Nov. 12, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire

Driven by the fundamental belief that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music, Playing For Change Foundation ( together with the support of Theatre Within ( have announced their plans to launch the POWER TO THE PEOPLE campaign.

Thanks to the generous support of Yoko Ono, the initiative seeks to advance John Lennon’s vision of peace by raising awareness and funds to develop and sustain Playing For Change Foundation’s vital music education programs in schools around the globe.

A portion of proceeds will also benefit Theatre Within’s mission to produce events to benefit important charities and social causes.

The campaign will be announced this evening as part of Theatre Within’s 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

The concert, which benefits Playing For Change Foundation, brings together a rare gathering of artists who will come together to celebrate the life, music and creative spirit of John Lennon. The all-star lineup of performers span nearly four generations, ranging from Rock & Roll Hall of Fame music icons Jackson Browne and Patti Smith to acclaimed artists Cyndi Lauper, Aimee Mann, Keb’ Mo’, Joan Osborne, Martin Sexton, and many others.

The POWER TO THE PEOPLE campaign aims to promote peace by engaging artists and audiences to contribute to music education programs on every continent. Proceeds raised will help build music schools, support teachers and music programs, purchase instruments, and connect schools for cross-cultural learning and conflict resolution across borders.

In addition to the Lennon Tribute concert, one of the campaign’s central events will be Playing For Change Day planned for May 7, 2011. During a single 24-hour period, professional musicians will join amateur performers at concerts, local events and grassroots gatherings around the globe to create a coordinated call to action to raise awareness and funds for music education programs in a unique one-day happening.  At each event, audiences will be urged to make a text pledge or online donation.

“John Lennon’s message of advancing peace through music and activism continues to be an inspiration for millions,” said Whitney Kroenke, co-founder and executive director of the Playing For Change Foundation. “It is at the heart of Playing For Change Foundation’s mission. We and our partner Theatre Within are honored to have the blessing of Yoko Ono, and join music lovers around the world in shaping this unique and participatory campaign.”


The Playing For Change Foundation (PFCF) is dedicated to the fundamental idea that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music. PFCF is devoted to connecting the world through music by providing resources (including schools, supplies, and educational programs) to musicians, young people and their communities around the world. The PFCF currently has programs in Nepal, Mali, Ghana, South Africa and Rwanda, and continues to expand its reach to communities in need. The mentorship and guidance the students receive from musicians and teachers provides a strong foundation for them to grow and thrive.  Learn more at


Theatre Within, a not-for-profit performing arts presenter dedicated to producing events to benefit outstanding charities and important social causes, has produced The Annual John Lennon Tribute since 1981, shortly after Lennon’s death. Inspired by the great humanitarian efforts of many socially-conscious performers, Theatre Within calls upon artists to see the performing arts as a public service and dedicate themselves to making a positive difference in their communities and around the world by serving a higher cause with passion, compassion and love.

Learn more at

Whenever the Playing For Change Band takes the stage, there is always a tremendous amount of love and energy in the air.  For this very special performance it was even more palpable, as the band was joined by many of our friends featured in our various Songs Around the World: Tula’s amazing vocals, Roberto Luti playing the National steel slide guitar, Francois Viguie on the bongos, Stefano Tomaselli on the sax, Venkat playing the tablas, and the beautiful choir vocals of Sinamuva.

This performance served as a powerful milestone in the evolution of Playing For Change.  Seeing so many talented musicians from all different cultures and walks of life united on stage for this very special night was a physical manifestation of our mission: to connect the world and bring peace through music.

Website: Playing For Change

Theatre Within’s 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute – A Benefit for Playing For Change Foundation

Theatre Within presents The 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute, A Benefit for The Playing For Change Foundation, at the Beacon Theater in New York City, on Friday, November 12, 2010.
This year’s Tribute will be a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of artists to celebrate the life, music and creative spirit of John Lennon.  We are honored and thrilled to be included in this year’s event!

The concert will feature musical performances by Jackson Brown, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, Aimee Mann, Keb’ Mo’, Joan Osborne, Martin Sexton, Shelby Lynne, Taj Mahal, Meshell Ndegeocello, Alejandro Escovedo, Playing For Change Band, The Kennedys, Vusi Mahlasela, Rich Pagano of the Fab Faux, YouTube sensation Chris Bliss, Wendy Osserman Dance and the Tribute’s co-creator and MAD Magazine Senior Editor, Joe Raiola.

In December 2004, Joe Raiola received a phone call from one of Yoko Ono’s assistants who had just read a listing in the New York Daily News about our 24th Annual Lennon Tribute. She had never heard of the show and was wondering what this was all about. Joe told her a little about the Tribute’s long history and our commitment to remembering and celebrating John for the benefit of a worthy charity. A few days later, Joe received an email from Yoko inviting him to write a short piece for the book she was working on. A few days later, Joe completed the essay posted here, which was subsequently published in Memories Of John Lennon.

Lennon Remembered
by Joe Raiola

A few years after I graduated college in 1977 I joined an experimental theater group on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, just down the street from the Dakota, called the Theatre Within Workshop.

It was founded by maverick director Alec Rubin, who was also a primal therapist. Alec was into working with performing artists on a core emotional level and helping them create raw autobiographical material for the stage. All of the scenes and monologues we developed in the workshop grew out of our experience in what Alec called “primal process.”

It’s a difficult thing to describe to someone who hasn’t actually been in the therapy. Imagine being shut down and neurotic for 25 years when suddenly everything you’ve been hiding – your pain, anger, tears and fears – erupts with volcanic force. It’s both liberating and terrifying.

Of course, it was well known that John had walked a similar path and we felt a special bond with him. His song writing had been deeply impacted by his intensive therapy with Primal Scream author Arthur Janov. The results could be heard on his riveting Plastic Ono Band album, which we loved for its depth of feeling, directness and simplicity: “Mama don’t go; daddy come home.” “As soon as you’re born they make you feel small…” “Look at me – who am I supposed to be?” “My mummy’s dead; I can’t get it through my head.” “We’re afraid of everyone, afraid of the sun…” “Love is real; real is love…” “I don’t believe in Jesus, Buddha, Beatles – I just believe in me, Yoko and me.”

I was 15 when Plastic Ono Band was originally released and I appreciated the album’s searing honesty even then. But listening to it a decade later, just as I was embarking on my own journey in primal therapy and coming of age as a man, it was a total revelation to me. I was roused and inspired by John’s vulnerability and his unflinching willingness to express his sadness, anger and pain. He was doing the personal healing work that I aspired to and it had completely transformed him – as a man and an artist. It had nothing to do with his celebrity status or wealth; John grew because he was committed to shining light into the dark places within himself. If he could do it, maybe I could too. Maybe we all could.

The next year John was gone. I’ll never forget that night he died. I was a taxi driver in those days and I was behind the wheel of my cab when I heard the news. I had never lost a dear friend or family member before, so perhaps that’s part of the reason John’s death hit me so hard. That, and the utter senselessness of it. Instinctively, I flipped on my “off duty” light and headed straight for Dakota. By the time I arrived a crowd had already gathered. We hugged each other and cried and took whatever comfort we could in singing John’s songs.

By 4 AM I was exhausted and in no shape to return home to Queens. So I walked over to Alec’s apartment, which was in the neighborhood just two flights above our theater studio. Until then our relationship was that of teacher/pupil, but that morning a friendship was born. We stayed up until dawn talking about John and listening to WNEW-FM where overnight host Vin Scelsa had dispensed with the music and was speaking with callers on the air. Neither of us realized it at the time, but the idea of doing an annual Lennon tribute had taken root in our hearts.

The following summer we were involved with a playwright who was writing a piece about the night John died and how it dramatically changed the course of two couples. We were going to present it as a reading, but a few weeks before it was scheduled to happen, the playwright got cold feet and pulled out of the project. (I’ve long lost contact with him and don’t know if he ever finished it.) Our impulse to remember John was strong and we felt compelled to do something. But what? We had already sent out publicity and the audience would be expecting a show about John and his impact on our lives. Why not present an evening of theater, dance and music as a tribute to him? That first show was incredibly cathartic for performers and audience members alike. I don’t recall who suggested it, but we decided that night to make it an annual event, and after a quarter of a century it’s still going strong.

Like anything with a long and vibrant life, the Annual Lennon Tribute has gone through some big changes over the years. It began as an outpouring of sorrow and grief and has evolved into a joyful celebration, not just of John, but of ourselves as performing artists in service to our community.  As director, I challenge the performers to take creative risks and develop work that grapples with the same perennial issues that John revisited throughout his career: peace, love, rebellion, spirituality, feminism and personal transformation.

That the show continues to inspire us to create new work in his memory and attract a warm audience every year is a testament to the lasting gift that John left behind. We remember him so fondly because he touched us as at the very core of our beings, as only a great artist can.

“While there’s life, there’s hope,” John once said. Well, it turns out there’s hope in death too, because the essence of what John embodied can never be snuffed out: it lives on in us.

For me, our Annual Lennon Tribute is an uplifting reminder of that eternal reality.


A decade ago a small group of documentary filmmakers set out with a dream to create a film rooted in the music of the streets. Not only has that dream been realized, it has blossomed into a global sensation called Playing For Change, a project including musicians of every level of renown, that has touched the lives of millions of people around the world.

While traveling the world filming and recording musicians, the crew became intimately involved with the music and people of each community they visited. Although many of these communities had limited resources and a modest standard of living, the people in them were full of generosity, warmth, and above all they were connected to each other by a common thread: music.

Out of these discoveries, the Playing For Change Foundation was born and made its mission to ensure that anyone with the desire to receive a music education would have the opportunity to do so. The Playing For Change Foundation is dedicated to the fundamental idea that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music.

Wondering what you can do to help us further our mission? Get involved or Donate


The Playing For Change Foundation is dedicated to creating positive social change through music education. We are driven by the belief that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music. By providing children a safe place to learn, flourish and express themselves, PFCF helps provide a creative alternative to the struggles many of these children face daily.

Music’s global impacts are explored via interaction with other schools, students, teachers and musical traditions. Our music schools are designed to benefit the students and the communities where they live. Each school belongs to its local community. Materials and labor for the buildings are locally sourced and supplied. When possible, instruments are made by and purchased from local artisans, classes are taught by local teachers, and the schools are owned and administered by local community members. The community is invested in the success of its school.


Many of the regions the Playing For Change Foundation works within suffer from extreme poverty, lack of basic resources, limited medical care and educational resources, past conflicts and genocide, unstable governments, and a host of infectious diseases.

Thanks to the amazing people we have met on our journey– people in the poorest towns and villages who still manage to find hope in the midst of their daily struggles– we believe now more than ever in the resiliency of the human spirit, and in music’s ability to transform a dire situation into a hopeful one.

PLAYING FOR CHANGE – Where we are going

In our ongoing effort to connect the world through music, our direction has been shaped by where we have been and by those who have inspired us along the way. With this in mind, we strive to:

  • Continue progress and foster sustainability with schools currently in development.
  • Develop new music schools and programs in new regions.
  • Establish valuable partnerships and collaborate with other organizations.
  • Expand the opportunities and resources available to communities in need.
  • Offer opportunities for our supporting community of donors continue to be involved.
  • To be an access point for various forms of aid, including to clean water, electricity, and medical resources
  • Create positive change through music education.