By Brian W. Carter, Contributing Writer
Nestled in South Los Angeles, with a sign that reads “White House Beauty Salon,” is a hidden gem, a place where youth can excel in the arts. It’s a very special school that teaches music education and is turning out a number of talented individuals.
This institution is doing such a good job that they have just been named as a finalist for the fifth annual Accelerator Awards from the Lewis Prize for Music. This is White Hall Arts Academy (WHAA).
Founded in 2011 by Berklee College of Music alumna Tanisha Hall, WHAA provides free and subsidized conservatory level transformative arts education programs to the South L.A., Inglewood, Watts, and Compton communities and online.
“This is our second time being a finalist,” said Hall. “We were a finalist in 2022 and we received the second place Infusion Award, which was a huge honor especially because our very first grant that we ever received was from the Lewis Prize in 2020, we received a COVID Impact Award. The Lewis Prize being our first supporter in that way has been really special.”
The Lewis Prize for Music is a philanthropic music arts organization advancing systems change through creative youth development. Founded in 2018 by philanthropist Daniel R. Lewis, The Lewis Prize for Music believes young people with access to high-quality music learning, performance, and creation opportunities will mature into thriving individuals.
WHAA has humble beginnings as Hall started teaching music to youth and wanted to have a space where other creatives could do the same. A military brat, she moved around a lot, visiting family in L.A. often and lived in Orange County for a time. Hall eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1998.
“I had been teaching out of my home since 2002 as a side hustle,” said Hall. “At the time, I worked in the music industry. I was living in Leimert Park and was mainly working in Hollywood and the Valley.”
It wasn’t until Hall was working with the Chaka Kahn Foundation in Watts that she saw the disparity of youth being exposed to the arts.
“I was like ‘woah, there’s a lot missing and these kids are not getting what the kids on other sides of town are getting,’” said Hall
A shift in her professional and personal life led her to focus on teaching music to youth full-time. Her grandparents had purchased a building in 1978 where her grandmother had a beauty salon. In 2011, Hall was looking for a space and her grandmother allowed her to rent in her building.
“I was like ‘great’ I’m going to build a music school,” said Hall. “My friend was like ‘oh, that’s great, I can teach dance!’
“And I said ‘you can teach dance, I’m going to build a performing arts academy.’ That’s where the name White Hall Arts Academy came from. My grandparents last name is White, my last name is Hall and if it wasn’t for my grandmother, my grandparents, the inspiration to build the school, would’ve never came.
“That’s why I call it White Hall Arts Academy – just to continue that legacy.”
Siobhan Heard started working at WHAA in 2019 and really enjoys teaching voice and piano to the elementary-aged students.
“I really enjoy their joie de vivre,” said Heard. Heard shared what she loves about WHAA is the love that goes into everyone who attends the academy.
“It’s a place where people really care about you,” said Heard. “It’s a really nice community to be a part of.
“I love that foster kids come here free, there’s a lot of kids on scholarships, I’ve seen Tanisha give people instruments, it’s really a place where the community cares about you.”
Hall is building a powerful legacy at WHAA, which has instructed over 7,000 students through private lessons and group classes. The academy offers a blend of classical and contemporary arts training to children and adults. WHAA’s mission is to use the power of the arts to educate, empower, and encourage communities in need.
“On Sunday, July 28, 2024, we’ll have our third annual Rock the Block Party where we shut down 54th Street,” said Hall. The event has grown since its inception in 2022 from 1,500 people to 3,000 this year.
“We gave Macy Gray our inaugural Change Maker Award, which was presented by Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove.
“Our priority for Rock the Block is children and families and we only do vendors that are educational services, mental health services.”
Among other partnerships, in January 2014, WHAA and Project MuszEd entered into a collaboration with the City of Los Angeles to offer a free after-school community music program of classes for children ages 4-18. The program began with 25 children and in a year, enrollment had grown to over 125 children. Currently, WHAA reaches nearly 500 children annually through in-house programs and community partnerships but, Hall is always open for more.
In 2024, Hall shared that WHAA will be partnering with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health to draw attention to mental health and depression.
“I feel like that’s something in our community that is not being addressed but as we’re kind of pivoting out of this pandemic, there’s a lot of unaddressed or undiagnosed depression and the isolation, there’s so much going on,” said Hall.
“I’m really excited to partner with the department of mental health next year to just bring more awareness to their services that are available.”