GRAMMY Finalist Danny Yancey: Helping Students Live a Life of Unique Purpose

Danny Yancey, Martin Gifted and Talented School, Raleigh, N.C.
Danny L. Yancey, Choral Director/Piano Instructor at Martin Gifted and Talented Magnet Middle School and Director of Faith Monument Church in Raleigh, North Carolina


In February 2015, the GRAMMY Foundation named Jared Cassedy of Windham, New Hampshire, the 2015 GRAMMY Music Educator. Cassedy was one of 10 finalists chosen from a pool of 7,000 nominations nationwide. Of the 10 music educators, eight are NAfME members. Each finalist received a $1,000 honorarium, and their schools each received a $1,000 grant from the GRAMMY Foundation.

Glenn E. Nierman, president of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), says the honored teachers represent high-quality music educators everywhere. Glenn E. Nierman, president of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), says the honored teachers represent high-quality music educators everywhere. Read Nierman’s full remarks.

Danny L. Yancey answered some questions from NAfME:

Q: What role do you believe music education plays in the overall learning experience of students?

Music education serves as an invaluable part of every student’s learning experience. Through music students learn confidence. This is especially important for middle school students who are living through a time when their own self-confidence may be low. Through music students learn valuable 21st century skills such as collaboration, cultural awareness and team work. Through music, students learn to listen and think critically. Through music students learn to be musical — to express themselves, to add beauty to the world, to feel and convey the message of a song.

Q: Why did you decide to become a music teacher?

I was fortunate to have some amazing music educators in my own life. One of those educators was my high school choral director, Mrs. Cindy Clark. Her passion for music was infectious. Through her program I gained experiences that I wouldn’t have gotten from anywhere else: performances at Disney World, New York City, the Bahamas, etc. Those experiences impacted me so much that I wanted to share them with others, thus I decided to teach music. I received the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Scholarship and attended North Carolina Central University. I finished summa cum laude and became a music educator. In my 13 years I have taken students to New York, Disney and numerous other places for performances as well. It is said that life is a collection of experiences. I want to help my students live lives full of unique, one of a kind experiences. Teaching music is a great vehicle to make that happen.

Q: Please describe your music program. And what role do you believe your music program plays in the overall fabric of the school?

My school is a Gifted and Talented Magnet school. This doesn’t mean that every student is academically and intellectually gifted; instead it means that we offer a wide variety of classes to help students discover and nurture their unique gifts and talents. In my school the arts play a huge role. We offer visual arts classes led by two amazing teachers. We offer dance, band, orchestra, drama and, of course chorus. Even with so many wonderful course offerings, I am proud to say that the choral program is still home to more than 15% of the total student population.

We have been fortunate to win numerous awards, be featured on local radio with some of our original compositions (“Carolina Christmas,” — available on iTunes), produce our own CD (Mustang Music Vol. 1 also available on iTunes and most digital music retailers). We offer a Men’s Ensemble (which performs standard middle school literature as well as pop music . . . we call it “Boy Band”), a Women’s Ensemble, a beginning 6th grade ensemble, an Honors Chorus that performs challenging middle school and high school literature (we’re currently working on Daniel Gawthrop’s “Sing Me to Heaven”), a piano class where novice and advanced pianists can learn, practice and perform together, and an after-school a cappella ensemble. 

Students around campus know that chorus and all of our performing arts classes provide a safe, friendly family environment where every student is challenged beyond the limits of what they thought possible to produce learning experiences that they will never forget.

Q: Any thoughts on the GRAMMY Educator process? Was it nerve-wracking or something you didn’t think about very much?

It was extremely nerve-wracking — but also extremely enjoyable. Throughout this process I’ve made friends with some of the other finalists those friendships have helped motivate me to become a better educator. I’ve been able to bounce ideas off of them, learn about their innovative approaches, and see them in action by watching their videos on YouTube. 

Seeing the kind words on social media and in my email from parents, former students, friends, family and strangers has encouraged me so much to do even more for the students that I serve. I am so thankful for the GRAMMY Foundation for this opportunity. I am thankful for their work and the work of NAfME to promote music education. As a GRAMMY finalist and a NAfME member I will continue to do all that I can in any way that I can to stand with you in support of Music Education.

Q: What role do you believe your NAfME membership has in the professional development aspects of your career?

I am the educator that I am because of NAfME. Most of the effective classroom strategies and the innovative ideas that I use either come from reading NAfME publications or from attending the North Carolina Music Educator’s Association (NCMEA) conference and events. My district’s professional development mostly centers around math, reading or technology. In order to stay abreast of current trends in music education, a NAfME membership has proven to be an absolute necessity. It gives my students yet more unique experiences by participating in our state’s Honors Chorus and All-State Choral Festivals. It gives me a chance to network with other music teachers across the state and country, and it gives all of us music educators a voice in the ear of lawmakers and the general public that music in our schools matters.

Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, February 26, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (