The Music Mentor
How a Grammy-winning former music teacher helps guide up-and-coming artists through a program at Strathmore
When Betty Scott’s granddaughter, Chlöe, was 6 years old, she asked, “Gran Betty, could I go to the Grammys sometime with you?” Scott agreed, saying she would take the girl when she was 13 to the Recording Academy’s annual awards show usually held in Los Angeles.
Scott made good on her promise—and then took Chlöe a second time when she was 16.
For someone like Scott, who’s built a career around music, getting invited to the prestigious ceremony even once might be the honor of a lifetime. But Scott, 76, a former music teacher who now directs the Artist in Residence (AIR) program that she helped develop at Strathmore in North Bethesda, recalls attending at least six times between 1999 and 2016—usually as a guest of friends who were nominated, and once because a choir she directed was featured on a nominated album.
Perhaps her most important appearance at the show came when she won a Grammy herself—for Best Choral Performance in 2000—for a recording of the Maryland Boy Choir singing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Scott, nominated along with conductor Robert Shafer, directed the choir, which performed with the Washington Chorus.
“Lo and behold, I have a Grammy in my living room,” says Scott, who lives in Kensington.
Before joining Strathmore in 2005, Scott worked for 40 years as a vocal music teacher at elementary schools in Prince George’s County, where she staged school musicals and directed children’s choirs. Quitting teaching was difficult for Scott, but when her inquiry about a volunteer position at the newly opened Music Center at Strathmore turned into an offer for a part-time job, she decided to leave the classroom.
Shelley Brown, Strathmore’s artistic director at the time, provided Scott with the inspiration for the AIR program, which was created later in 2005. Brown had envisioned a program that would pair up-and-coming local musicians with mentors who were working in the music industry; offer development seminars; and provide opportunities for participants to perform. As director, Scott finds mentors and professionals to present the seminars and maintains relationships with participating artists, connecting new members of the program with those of years past.
“I think this network is so important, of having [the musicians] exposed to people who are in the business, and then those same people going out and saying, ‘Oh! I’ve got a gig for you because I know how good you are,’ ” Scott says. “…And you know, having the Strathmore name behind you is not a bad thing.”
Previous participants include hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon, who was nominated for a Grammy in 2009 for Best Musical Album for Children, and Chelsey Green, who is now an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and has performed with Stevie Wonder.
During AIR’s first year, only four musicians were selected to participate and only a handful of seminars were offered. Every class since then has included six musicians, Scott says. Seminars cover topics ranging from grant writing to band-leading skills, the latter a topic that is especially important for women, who often aren’t respected as bandleaders in otherwise all-male groups, according to Scott. “I’ve had women say, ‘They don’t pay attention, they talk over me,’ ” she says.
Though Scott oversees the logistics of the program, she makes an effort to get to know the artists. She hosts a party at her house in June and invites past and current program participants. “This is where my nurturing side comes in…it’s like a reunion. So we introduce the new class, and they get to meet their predecessors and people that they’re probably going to play with in years to come,” Scott says. “…We eat and network and have an amazing jam session.”
Former participant Rochelle Rice, a singer and composer who lives in the District, says the artists in residence think of Scott as their “fairy godmother, auntie, best friend [and] manager.”
“She’s wonderful about continuing to keep tabs on Artist in Residence alums. She’s constantly calling me for more work, and bringing us together for collaborative ideas, and if any opportunities pop up, she calls us,” Rice says. “She’s definitely become, especially for me, an invaluable resource when I need connections to something, or just when I’m looking for really sound advice for a new idea.”
Scott says she has no plans to retire, so the list of participants who will benefit from her experience and connections will continue to grow.
“A lot of people are lucky if they get one really exciting and enjoyable career in their life. …I am now 54 years a music educator,” she says. “Is that cool or what?”