Story and photos by Rod Grimes
Gaynel Hodge was invited to perform with the New School for the Arts & Academics (NSAA) in Tempe on Saturday, March 5. Hodge is co-writer of the 1950’s platinum selling song Earth Angel, and founding member of such legendary vocal groups as The Platters, The Turks and The Hollywood Flames. NSAA is a tuition-free public charter school enrolling grades 6 through 12 specializing in visual, performing, and literary arts providing a college-preparatory academic curriculum for high school students.
Hodge called this writer to say, “You really have to come out and see these talented kids. Denise Martin has done such a great job.” Martin is the school’s Performing Arts Department chair.
The program then opened with Hodge on the keyboards playing and singing his internationally known #1 song “Earth Angel.” All of the performers on the program that night lined up as the background singers. Hodge had to leave shortly after for another engagement. Fortunately I stayed around for a substantial part of the program. In doing so I heard some very young but extremely talented vocalists.
Jacey Sarai Brown stepped up to the microphone to sing “Take Me To The Church.” Following that excellent performance Maitri Cooper belted out “I’m Gonna Love You” – equally excellent. Before I left, I heard Mica Dotson-Thomas take on the challenging “We’ll Be The Stars.” In spite of some microphone problems which reduced her volume, she did some really quality work. I agree with Hodge’s assessment that these really are some very talented kids – and at NSAA they are getting so much better at their craft.