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Music Legend Bill Withers Makes Virtual Stop at the Morgantown PopShop

Morgantown-based artist Jamie Lester graffitied the PopShop.
courtesy of Chris Russell
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PopShop is a music academy in Morgantown where previous musical training is not a requirement and where there are no age limits for those who want to learn how to rock. Students at the school just had a Skype-date with a musical legend: West Virginia native and recent inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Bill Withers.

Pop Music Ed

The PopShop exists in this 106-year-old building that used to be an elementary school. As you walk in you see colorful spray-paint graffiti of famous musicians’ faces covering the walls. You’ll also hear bands playing anything from the Rolling Stones to Lady Gaga.

What started as a small private business with 11 students has expanded into a nonprofit organization that houses a creative outlet for almost 90 kids and scholarship students aged eight and up. Musician and teacher Chris Russell founded the academy in the early 2000’s believing that popular music is a powerful musical education tool.

“I taught private lessons for a long time, and kids would come in and said that, ‘hey all my friends play instruments, we are going to start a band!’ And the next week they come back, and I would ask them if they got together and they would say no. So I thought, what if we facilitate that and find a place to do it and we started doing it in a small studio in town?”

Inside of the front of the PopShop - formally Woodburn Elementary in Morgantown. The school building is 106 years old. PopShop just set up shop in the last year.
Credit courtesy of Chris Russell
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Inside of the front of the PopShop - formally Woodburn Elementary in Morgantown. The school building is 106 years old. PopShop just set up shop in the last year.

The Argument

Chris is now a full-time music educator as well as a musician, and he’s spent plenty of time performing--touring across the US as a member of a band called “The Argument”. The band members were all music teachers, and while on tour, they would take breaks and teach students during the day. At night they would put on a performance for the school to raise money for music programs. The band called this concept of teaching while touring, “PopShop.” Chris and his band mates even secured funding from the Justin Timberlake Foundation to help in the music-education endeavors.

The Argument broke up in 2006, but Chris kept a more rooted version of PopShop going in Morgantown. PopShop now has 21 bands running, with 90 students ranging in age from eight to adult.

Seven instructors teach. Backgrounds range from soundboard operators to performance artists to steel drum-making. Instructor Keith Moon says he loves the school because the students keep him young.

“They have this energy that I wish I had still,” Moon said with a laugh. “It’s one of those things. It just makes me a kid again.”

Students, parents, and teachers came together for a Skype-call with Bill Withers.
Credit courtesy of Chris Russell
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Students, parents, and teachers came together for a Skype-call with Bill Withers.

Bill Withers Visits PopShop

Chris hopes to expand PopShop to different locations one day… but in the meantime, he likes to bring different locations and artists to him and to his students. Virtually.

withersbetter.jpg
Credit courtesy of Chris Russell
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Bill Withers was able to talk with students at PopShop through Skype.

  One parent later asked what advice Withers had for anyone hoping to get into the music industry. Withers shared some straightforward advice:

“The important thing is to be good at life!” Withers said. “If think you can go to the moon, try. But, don't make all your clothes moon clothes. My advice to anybody about anything is get as good at everything you can and then life will tell you which way you're going to go, because it is really not your decision. It's other people's decisions that decide whether or not you are going to make a living in music.”

After sharing a lot of laughs, students sang one of his most iconic songs “Lean On Me” to wrap up the call.


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