Generosity with jazz: Valerie and Kenny Phelps aim to give back with local record label

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By Sadie Hunter

 

For more than 20 years, Indianapolis natives Valerie and Kenny Phelps have been professional musicians. In recent years, they have worked philanthropically through their nonprofit status to create opportunities and help launch careers of music students in the Indianapolis area and give back to organizations and initiatives that need help.

In 2013, the duo, who reside in Lawrence, purchased the former OWL Studios and rebranded it as OWL Music Group. Their mission is to support and market local musicians and use the record label as a vehicle to benefit the community.

RADIO SHOW

Each week, OWL Music Group hosts a radio show on WICR (88.7 FM) at 9 p.m. Monday nights.

“The purpose is to help expose local artists and bring on national artists, as well as to give the listeners kind of a snapshot behind-the-scenes of the music industry, (give them) a closer look,” Kenny said. “And then we also spotlight agencies that produce a positive change in our community.”

“He interviews local and national talent,” Valerie said. “He previews their album.”

EVENTS

“Every event benefits something in the community or a worthwhile cause,” Valerie said.

Some events in recent years have benefited organizations and groups like Indy Parks, the Dept. of Public Safety and The Julian Center. Each year, the record label partners with Q-95’s Bob & Tom for Heat Relief, a concert and donation event where community members can purchase bottled water to donate to Wheeler Mission. This year, the event received more than 130,000 bottles.

“I am proud because we can use our music to help and heal. How can we use music to help promote change?” Kenny said. “Its more than just producing records. Anybody can do that. So, what are we going to do with that once we have that audience? How do we share artists and audience together to have that impact?”

“When you donate, or when you attend our concerts, it’s all going back to the community,” Valerie said. “Besides, it’s the best musicians and the best singers in the city.”

THE NIGHT OWL SESSIONS

OWL Music Group’s Night OWL sessions target students in high school and college who want to pursue a career in music. But the workshop program runs the gamut on careers that revolve around music, from performing to lighting and sound, choreography, producing, album design, writing and so much more.

“So, most of the time when you think about being a musician, what you think about is performing on stage or traveling around the world,” Kenny said. “But then there’s a whole other side of the business that most people don’t think about. There are so many aspects to the music business, and we want to expose them to all of them.”

The next Night Owl Session will take place Oct. 17 at North Central High School for jazz students from both North Central and Noblesville High School.

“Those kids will get a chance to work with seasoned professionals and learn about the industry,” Kenny said. “We have a Christmas show coming up Dec. 12 at the Schrott Center (at Butler University). So they’re going to be a part of that. We’ll send them songs, and they will get to perform the songs with professional musicians for that Christmas show.”

Earlier that day, students will participate in various clinics offered by Butler University as well.

The Christmas show will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts, 610 W. 46th St., Indianapolis. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $25 pre sale and $30 the day of.

GETTING THEIR START IN MUSIC

“I’ve been a singer for more than 20 years,” said Valerie, who began singing gospel in church in her 20s. “I met Kenny when I was singing at Clowes Hall, and he was one of the musicians playing there. So, 22 years later…”

For years, the duo has been performing separately all around the Indianapolis area.

“My roots are in gospel, and once I met Kenny, I was exposed to jazz and to pop and all these different styles, because that’s what he does, he plays drums,” Valerie said. “So when we got together, I got exposed to all these different styles of music and realized that I love it all.”

Kenny said he also grew his musical roots in church.

“I was probably about 4 or 5. My mom would take out the pots and pans, or let me have pencils in the back of the car,” he said. ” So they finally got me a drum set, and I just kept playing. As I got through school, I met different musicians. Traveling around a lot with gospel things, I got a chance to see things from a different perspective other than just through the church. I thought, ‘Man, this is what I want to do for a living.’”

And after participating in a job-shadowing program at Eli Lilly, Kenny said he knew he wasn’t living out his true passion and left the job to become a professional musician.

Valerie works a full-time day job at Harrison Hill Elementary School, works nights as a singer throughout the city and is the program director at OWL Music Group.

Kenny is the CEO of OWL Music Group and is a drum instructor at Butler University.


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