The Tale of Empire State of Mind, Detroit Style

etroit Academy of Arts and Sciences (DAAS) elementary choir students penned their version of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” For a class assignment, four students rewrote the lyrics to show their pride in academic achievement and in their hometown of Detroit. The result is “DAAS Detroit State of Mind.”

DAAS’ Choir Director Angela Kee says, “There have been a lot of negative comments and press about Detroit and our inner city school system. But when people listen to this song and view the music video, all of that negativity gets pushed to the side and we remember: ‘We’re from Detroit and our children are talented and they can receive an excellent education! We can be proud and stand up.’”

Each of the students recreated meaningful lyrics. LaGemma Sims wrote, “I go to DAAS and you know I represent. When I go to school I have to get my education. Can’t act immature, I don’t have time to waste. Want to be and a lawyer and a doctor, too. That’s what I’m going to do when I finish school. Yeah, I’m from the D where many stars are made. Aretha Franklin, Temptations, Motor City made.”

Lawrence Patton rocks the mic with: “Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, too. Back to back champions – you know how we do! We love our city, so don’t have pity. Long live the Renaissance. Long live DAAS. Because all of this stuff is from Detroit.”

Melody Williams sounds off with: “Detroit residents can’t get any better. DAAS representatives can’t get any fresher. D.S.O. and Art Institute, great summer festivals, lots of place to live. Yeah! Detroit is the best city in Michigan, but Lansing is the capital and Detroit always should have been.” The bridge of the song was delivered by Yasmeen Dorsey with an up tempo tone.

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In addition to writing powerful lyrics, the students also had the experience of going into a recording studio and laying the tracks with Daniel Young, a recording engineer and a music teacher at DAAS. The video production was yet another once in a life time experience for the DAAS choir, dance troupe, performing and marching band, orchestra, majorettes, cheerleaders and the basketball team, who all participated in a two-day video shoot I produced through my company Eye to Eye Productions.

This song speaks to the essence of unleashing the potential of Detroit, the potential that beats in the heart of every child born and raised in the city. I wanted the audience to walk away feeling inspired by the students of Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences. We wanted to convey that Detroit is a place where kids can grow, learn and be who they want to be. There is no better place in the world to bring dreams to life.

Sixth-grader Sims shares, “You should always shoot for your dreams. I would never have imagined this wonderful moment before and I thank my school for this opportunity.”

The DAAS elementary choir enables its students to develop poise, self-confidence, self-discipline and an understanding of the artistic process through vocal performance. It’s a group of high-spirited children who consistently give a dynamic presentation with an emphasis on education, character and ethics. The choir is adept at performing pop, hip hop and inspirational music. Throughout the school year, the choir enriches the cultural life of the Detroit community at large through performances for charitable, education and civic organizations.

The DAAS choir has received numerous awards at various statewide competitions and received the coveted “Spirit of Detroit” award. The choir has also opened concerts for Grammy Award-winning recording artist Chaka Khan and Detroit’s own Kem, among other celebrities.

They have been featured guest at events for two sitting Mayors, a host of celebrities and dignitaries and have been showcased on many major media outlets. WJBK Fox 2 News premiered the “DAAS Detroit State of Mind” music video on June 15, 2011, and the buzz of this remix by DAAS continues to bring joy to the city and the nation.

Maurice Morton, CEO and the DAAS school district Board of Directors are committed to providing every student with the resources they need to achieve academically and to further develop their individual talents. According to Morton, “’DAAS Detroit State of Mind’ video was an amazing project that highlighted the talents of our children. This video project not only instilled confidence and pride in our students but also promotes Detroit pride.”

DAAS performing arts curriculum embraces student creativity. It partners with companies and organizations that recognize the importance of arts education, including Ford, UAW, Music Hall, Goodfellows, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and many more.

For more information on DAAS, visit www.daask12.com.

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