Roots of American Music enriches lives through music

Kevin Richards, ROAM founder and executive director, teaches kids. Photo by Janet Macoska.

At a time when many organizations, from school systems to groups that help senior citizens and disabled adults and children, have cut back on their funding for arts-related classes and programs, a Cleveland Heights nonprofit group called Roots of American Music (ROAM) has stepped in and filled a major gap. ROAM takes teaching artists—musicians who have teaching skills and who work in group situations—into schools all over Northeast Ohio and presents classes and programs covering everything from music to history, and even math and science. It also provides programs for scores of groups that serve adults with various needs.

ROAM was founded in 1998 by Cleveland Heights resident Kevin Richards. Richards majored in music at Cleveland State University and also worked at Dick Lurie Guitars for several years as a salesman and a guitar instructor. Then, in 1988, he founded the Fairmount School of Music, which is still located on Fairmount Boulevard in Cleveland Heights. “I was teaching private, one-on-one guitar classes to musicians who were upper- and middle-class folks,” Richards said. “I wanted to start an outreach program for students in schools—for those who could or could not afford it. And I wanted to work with the students who were not necessarily musicians. I wanted to preserve, present and educate through roots music.”

Since its founding 15 years ago, ROAM has continued to expand, and now it presents hundreds of classes, programs and workshops every year, including songwriting workshops, blues guitar, music and motion, and professional development for educators. Some of ROAM’s programs cover topics, such as as personal finances and healthy living. This year, Roots of American Music has engaged students at public and private schools in Cleveland Heights, Cleveland, East Cleveland, Elyria, Parma, Euclid and other school districts.

“ROAM is the mortar to my teaching,” said Kathleen Merk, who teaches at the Luis Muñoz Marin School in the Tremont section of Cleveland. “I bring all of the necessary information to my students, and ROAM works with my class to cement the learning. All of my students benefit when music and movement are added to class curriculum, but my students who struggle academically really shine. It allows them to apply their own special learning styles and excel.”

In recent years, ROAM has started conducting programs at local businesses, including Mac’s Backs bookstore on Coventry Road, where it holds affordable blues guitar lessons for children. The organization works with numerous institutions, including Lake Metroparks, the Shore Cultural Centre, the University Settlement in Slavic Village, the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Metroparks. This year, ROAM is also presenting songwriting programs for young people at 28 Cuyahoga County Public Library branches.

ROAM receives generous funding from the Ohio Arts Council & Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, as well as from numerous private sponsors and foundations. ROAM also presents several fundraising concerts every year, featuring well-known musical artists.

The next benefit, Rockin’ for ROAM, will take place on Nov. 9 at John Carroll University. More details will be forthcoming. Tickets are available by calling 216-321-9353.

Overall, Richards is extremely pleased with the success of Roots of American Music and looks forward to ROAM's future endeavors. “We reach out to so many people, and we help enrich their lives, using music,” he said. “We are pleased that so many musicians in the Cleveland area want to help us, and we hope to keep expanding our programs and helping the citizens of Northeast Ohio.”


James Henke

James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident and a frequent contributor to the Heights Observer, is the president of the board of Roots of American Music.

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Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 1:32 PM, 08.30.2013