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Avenue Blackbox Theatre receives Alicia Keys' piano for its music program

Sep 1, 2020

Rochester's Avenue Blackbox Theatre and its director Reenah Golden (left) are the new owners of Alicia Keys's blue Steinway-designed piano.
Credit LEFT: PHOTO BY KURT INDOVINA / RIGHT: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT / CITY

A piano previously owned, played, and signed by Grammy-winning musician Alicia Keys is making its way to its new home at The Avenue Blackbox Theatre on Joseph Avenue.

Fellow musician and Rochester native Andy Nahas successfully bid on the cerulean blue Boston 126E upright piano, designed by Steinway & Sons, at an auction to benefit the charity MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund, which received $35,000 in the sale, to go toward lessening the pandemic’s financial toll on individuals in the music industry.

"I bid on this piano on behalf of MusicPower, a charity I established to support exceptional music-related initiatives such as MusiCares,” Nahas said in a Recording Academy article. “I'm further excited because we've chosen to donate the piano to another impressive initiative called The Avenue Blackbox Theatre in Rochester, New York, which will launch an expanded music learning program for inner city youth and adults upon receipt of Alicia's beautiful Steinway piano."

Nahas has been a financial supporter of The Avenue Blackbox Theatre from the outset and is a friend of Danielle Ponder, who serves on the Avenue’s advisory committee. The organization’s focus on making space for young Black artists whose work is frequently dismissed or otherwise marginalized in a way that disrespects their experiences resonated with Nahas, says Reenah Golden, founder and director of The Avenue Blackbox Theatre.

Nahas and Golden both agreed that the piano should be an active part of the music-making experience for students at the arts center, and not merely serve as a conversation piece or a flashy bit of storage, Golden says.

She sees the piano as a source of inspiration for students to tap into the creative magic that’s within them. The Avenue’s music program gives them the space to explore soul, R&B, and pop music specifically, using music as both therapy and storytelling as they learn songwriting and production tips from such Rochester musicians as Ponder, Sherice Barnes, Avis Reese, and Ari Highsmith.

Golden identifies access and connection as hindrances to the creative success of city children.

“I think that’s the biggest obstacle, is that we get kind of locked into this idea of giving them what we believe they need, versus asking them what they want, asking them what they’re thinking about, what they’re dreaming about, and really rallying around, trying to really make that happen for them,” Golden says. 

Students having access to quality resources that reinforce their sense of self-worth is an important component, she says.

“It’s not like we’re a huge arts center that going to have multiple instruments and things. This is the piano, and I have to tell you, it’s really quite magical already.”

She had been reluctant to accept offers of piano donations to The Avenue in the past. “Who knew I was waiting for this Steinway piano?” she says.

The piano is currently traveling from Alicia Keys’s home in Los Angeles to Steinway & Sons in New York City, which is scheduled to get there by September 3, says Golden. The company’s piano movers will then bring it to Rochester, where it is expected to arrive next week.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.