On Thursday, March 17, Newark Public Schools in partnership with The City of Newark held a “funky” celebration in honor of “The Godfather of Funk”: George Clinton ahead of his birthday concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Hosted at his alma mater Avon Avenue Elementary School, a renamed band room in Clinton’s name was unveiled as a culmination of the festivities. Bestowed with the title of “Godfather Ram of Funk” by Principal of Avon, Charity Haygood – the celebration began with a proclamation read to Mr. Clinton by Superintendent Roger León and was followed by words from Mayor of Newark, Ras J. Baraka, Dave Rodriguez, Executive Vice-President of NJPAC and Jennifer Tsukayama, Vice-President of Arts Education, NJPAC.
“In honoring Mr. George Clinton, we not only honor him as the man and legend that he is, but we honor him as a student, one of ours,” said Superintendent Roger León. “Can you imagine? He started everything he is and has accomplished here, as a student of Avon Avenue Elementary School.”
Clinton was welcomed at the entrance of his alma mater by rows of students from Grades K -2 lining the walls with streamers and music and applause, he was also guided into the cafetorium by a parade of students donning hula hoops, a nod to Clinton’s history. Students were encouraged to dress in their “funkiest” clothes in honor of the musical icon, known for his out-of-this-world attire and costumes – while Clinton and guests were treated to a concert of his hits performed by the students. Clinton quickly joined, encouraging guests and participants to “get funky” with him. The school’s orchestra performed the song “Flashlight” while Clinton clapped and danced in his seat.
Students were invited to participate in a Q&A with Clinton as they asked him about his inspirations, humble beginnings, and favorite past-times. Clinton shared that the start of the Parliament happened on Avon’s playground as a result of being inspired by musical superstars Frankie Lymon, and The Teenagers. While staring out at the crowd of students, Clinton stated “It’s so crazy to me now, thinking back – looking at the students here, how small I was when The Parliament began. We were so young.” As a former student of the school, Clinton reminisced about how his teachers heard him and his bandmates sing and play, and encouraged them to continue on, which led to their overall start.
“We produce skilled leaders who positively impact their community and the world,” said Principal Haygood. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for returning and inspiring our scholars to be the best that they can be.”
The morning’s events came to an end with the unveiling of the school’s new band room, dedicated to Clinton, titled “The George Clinton Band Room” which featured a mural of the iconic musician and rows of new instruments from pianos to drums, guitars and more, some of them – donated by Clinton, himself. The City of Newark is home to many of the “giants” we look up to today, and Newark Public Schools stands as part of their foundations. To recognize Mr. Clinton through the school that helped shape him, in front of the students that he is now assisting in shaping through his generous donations; Newark Public Schools in line with the Newark Board of Education is overjoyed to be able to bestow this honor today.
Avon Avenue Elementary is one of many Newark Public Schools currently unveiling new additions within their facilities. With renovations happening over the last two years, our schools have been able to benefit from updated and restructured additions, providing our students with more opportunities to explore and engage in developmental activities. With a newly remodeled gym, two years in the making, the creation of a STEM lab, and now, a renewed band room, the students and staff at Avon Avenue are on a direct path to success.