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It’s hard to imagine anyone turning Lady Gaga down these days, but she insists that a man named Don Lawrence once came very close.
Sure, it was a few years back, but 13-year-old Gaga (then known by given name Stefani Germanotta) had hoped to land the voice coach to help guide her most important instrument. Lawrence is a legendary fixture in the music business who has coached everyone from Mick Jagger and Christina Aguilera to Alicia Keys and Bono.
“His nephew had heard me singing at a boutique down the street,” she remembers. “He called his Uncle Don and said, ‘I think you should take a listen to this girl.’ I went in and he said, ‘I don’t have any room for you, and you can’t afford me. But, I think you’re really something.’ ”
Aside from talent, something else Gaga has is dedication.
“I promised him that if he took me on as a student that I would do everything he told me that I needed to in order to be a great student,” recalls the singer, who boasted that she still does Lawrence-instructed vocal warm-ups all these years later.
Not only did she prove to be a good student, but sharpened her voice and transformed into a global superstar with one of the most powerful voices of her generation. Gaga can also spit out a pretty good story, like the one above that she delivered on Monday afternoon upon accepting the 2016 Jane Ortner Artist Award at the Grammy Museum’s Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon.
The award honors a performer who has demonstrated passion and dedication to education through the arts. Previous honoree John Legend was on hand at the event, held underneath a giant white tent in the backyard of billionaire Ron Burkle’s house, known as Green Acres. The Grammy and Oscar winner not only showed up, but he warmed up the well-dressed lunch crowd with performances of “Here Comes the Sun,” “Ordinary People,” “All of Me” and “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” the latter of which is his duet with Meghan Trainor.
John Legend performs onstage at the 2016 Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon at Ron Burkle’s Beverly Hills estate on April 4, 2016. (Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage)
The day’s other honoree — eighth-grade English teacher Jonathan Bernal of Topaz Preparatory Academy in Hesperia, Calif. — accepted his award from Ortner’s husband, Chuck. Also present were CAA’s Bryan Lourd and Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. All proceeds from the event, catered by Jennifer Naylor and featuring Legend’s wine label LVE, benefit the continued expansion of the Jane Ortner Education Award program, which offers development workshops for teachers and a free online library of music-integrated curricula, as well as music education initiatives of the Grammy Museum.
Back to the Gaga show.
Following an introduction from National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences president Neil Portnow, Gaga accepted her award and said that “it’s my love of learning music and playing music that keeps me here.”
Her love was on full display as she teamed with the Brian Newman quintet to perform a jaw-dropping set of jazz classics to close the lunch, everything from “New York, New York” to “Call Me Irresponsible.” She turned it all the way up and received a standing ovation for the finale — a rendition of “La Vie en Rose,” Edith Piaf’s classic tune about seeing life through rose-tinted glasses.
That is precisely what Gaga instructed the audience not to do when examining the culture of the industry and its icons. Instead, she said, focus on the art, or in her case, the music.
“Lastly, I would like to say that in the spirit of this wonderful evening and all of the blessings we have today. I think it’s so great for us all to leave tonight, or this afternoon, with an inner sense of inspiration to help other people feel a genuine authentic love for music that is beyond becoming famous, beyond making money, beyond becoming a star, beyond looking like you have it all. Because I can tell you that stuff ain’t s— compared to the records. The records are where it’s at.”
Museum board member Chuck Ortner, right, presents 2016 Jane Ortner Award to Jonathan Bernal at the 2016 Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon at Ron Burkle’s Beverly Hills estate on April 4, 2016. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/WireImage)
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