By Ronnie Polidoro, NBC News
At 87, Tony Bennett has won 17 Grammys and sold more than 50 million records worldwide. He's best known as a musical artist, however, to the students at Esteban E. Torres High School in East Los Angeles, he’s an educator.
While growing up in the Queens, N.Y., neighborhood of Astoria, Bennett attended the High School of Industrial Art. In 1999, Bennett opened his own art school, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, in his old neighborhood and founded Exploring the Arts with his now wife, Susan Benedetto, who he married in 2007.
Exploring the Arts provides guidance, resources and funding to high school music and arts programs. The program has partnered with 14 public schools in New York City and, as of this year, with three schools in East Los Angeles.
NBC’s Harry Smith met up with Bennett and his wife at Esteban E. Torres High School to check in on the program and their imaginative students.
“I’m thrilled about it,” Bennett told NBC News. “This is a great community because there are more artists in Hollywood than anywhere in the world!”
Since its start, Exploring the Arts has spent more than $8 million to support partner schools, students and teachers – including scholarships, development plans, and apprenticeship programs. There are nearly 60 partner organizations in the apprenticeship program. Some of the most recognizable are the American Ballet Theatre, the Tribeca Film Institute, and the Los Angeles Opera.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Susan Benedetto, “We have a great group of people making sure Tony's vision is achieved and these kids are given the proper education they deserve.”
Educators at Torres told us impassioned students get better grades and stay in school.
“How do we get smart, engaged, self-directed, empowered kids? Through the arts,” said Principal Carolyn McKnight.
Bennett's Frank Sinatra School of the Arts touts its 95 percent graduation rate and Exploring the Arts hopes they will continue to make a difference with their presence on the West Coast.
For Bennett, “it's the best thing that could everhappen.”
To learn more about the organization Exploring the Arts, please visit their website.