One of America’s most sought after performers, Grammy-winning rap star Kanye West gave a free concert at Santa Monica High School Monday afternoon in the school’s Greek Theater.
Samohi won the concert, besting over 100 other Los Angeles area schools in an online two-week contest called “Big Boy’s Backstage with Kanye West” sponsored by Power 106’s Big Boy in the Morning (105.9 KPWR, Los Angeles) and the Knowledge is Power Foundation.
The station’s website received more than 5 million hits, 20 percent of which were Samohi’s. A similar contest was held three years ago.
A press release from 106 FM Big Boy said, “Samohi has proven that a school can pull its students, faculty and families together to accomplish anything for their school if they truly want to achieve a goal. They are deserving of this victory.”
Preparations for the one-hour concert began over two weeks ago, when the District was notified that Samohi had won the contest.
District Superintendent John Deasy told the Mirror that his office knew about Samohi’s win “48 hours before the students,” adding that organizing for the performance was “no different than organizing for graduation,” though there were several levels of security, including issuing “every Samohi student a colored wrist band after checking their student ID.”
The District’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Michael Matthews, said the high school security staff was augmented by staff from other District schools to secure the campus.
Samohi Principal Ilene Straus stated that daily planning meetings were held in preparation for the concert, including daily contact with the radio station. Attending the meetings were representatives from student security, campus security, the student body, the Santa Monica Police, site administrators and district administrators.
According to Straus, the administration’s “biggest concern was keeping everyone safe” and coming up with the “best way to keep outsiders out.”
To that end, the District staff and police monitored the perimeter of the campus.
Straus also reviewed West’s material in advance of the concert, saying that he performs two versions of his material, and the audience at Samohi heard the “TV appropriate” version.
In Straus’s view, the time and energy involved preparing for the concert was well worth it as it helped the school “build community and community pride…[and] a lot of school spirit. If the kids could win, we’d make it work.” Seating for the concert was determined by which classes donated the most canned food for the school’s holiday food drive.
West and Bob Munoz, representing Sam Goody Music (which is part of Musicland Group Inc.), held a brief press conference right before the concert. Munoz said that the Kanye West Foundation and his company were joining together in the Free U Giveaway, a nationwide sweepstakes in which a prize of $150,000 to pay for a college education will be awarded.
West also answered a few questions. He said, “Just what I do everyday” should be a role model for Samohi students, adding that though he dropped out of college, he urged young people to complete their college education as “you need every advantage you can have.”
He also said that rap music “is now part of our culture, so it can be used to educate.”
During the concert, West not only sang and danced but also answered questions from Big Boy and the students.
Students were uniformly enthusiastic. Samohi senior Nicola Persky said, “It’s very rare that the student body can make something happen and it’s great to see its impact.”
Another student, David Martinez said, “It’s really great that he came here to help unify the school.”
City Council member Richard Bloom presented West with a City commendation after the concert.
West’s new album is “Late Registration.” His debut album “The College Dropout” was nominated for 10 Grammys and earned him three, including “Best Rap Song” for “Jesus Walks.”A producer and record executive as well as a performer, West established the Kanye West Foundation “to support education.” The foundation’s first program was ‘Loop Dreams,’ which installed music recording and production equipment in schools and established an incentive program that appeals to “students who, like West in his day, are interested in a nontraditional curriculum.”