LaShone Kelley, right, and her son and youngest Chicago Kelleys group member Jachin Kelly, 14. | Igor Studenkov

Austin Weekly News met LaShone Kelley at a West Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce town hall on Nov. 4. While waiting for the event to start, we talked about her life on the West Side, the classical music ensemble her family formed and the importance of Black children seeing themselves in the classical music scene. 

I was born in West Garfield Park, at 4151 W. Washington Blvd. I still remember the address. As my parents got a bit of upward mobility, we moved to the Austin community. I got married right out of high school and I moved to East Garfield Park with my husband. We’ve been out here ever since. My husband’s family has been in the community for 70 years. 

My husband and I have 15 children. We were interested in doing something that supports Garfield Park, so we formed the Chicago Kelleys. They do – I mean, they did before the pandemic – musical performances. Nine kids who played classical music. They studied under Howard Sandifer at the Golden Dome.

We did paid performances and some free performances for people who don’t usually get to see music live. We wanted to make sure they have the opportunity to see Black youth play cello, violin, stand-up base, electric guitar. Oftentimes, our children don’t see people who look like them play classical music. 

The last time they performed was at the Music Under Glass [a musical performance series held at the Garfield Park Conservatory] and that was in January 2020.

We do want to get back to it. Some of [the youth in the group] are in college now, so we have to work around their schedules. But we have started rehearsing again. We’re looking for venues to play at and we’re applying for funding. What we do still costs money. We’re looking to build up funding and financial support.  

We want to have musical lessons in our community. Mr. Sandifer is doing that, but when I searched for who else is doing that in the community, I couldn’t find anyone. We want to be able to offer music lessons for children in our community that are affordable for our community. 

I think classical music is very valuable. We hope it will stir the children’s minds. We know that doing art helps students achieve in school and helps them learn. We hope that we can encourage kids to pursue music. A lot of times, they think they’re not talented, so they don’t try. 

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...