Music matters: Best friends celebrate diversity with Common Chords

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Robert Jones and Matt Watroba have been making music for more than 30 years.

The best friends perform everywhere from elementary schools to senior centers for preschoolers and prisoners. It's music that matters.

"We celebrate diversity, we celebrate the idea that America would not be the America we know and love at all without the people and all of the cultures that feed into it," Jones said.

"Even though the program we do for kids as well as adults, is all about the celebration of diversity, we never mention that word once," Watroba said. "Because I think they see it. They see in our 30-year friendship; they see it in our love for each other as friends over the years."

They celebrate diversity because they are diversity - black and white - from the inner city and the suburbs, but always striking a common chord in music.

"There's something about the universal language of music that connects - it very rarely divides," Watroba said. "It gets to the heart of what's real and what makes us alike."

That commonality is at the heart of their non-profit Common Chords - and their programs, like "Music that matters" taking kids and adults on a journey through history with some of America's most beloved music.

The duo performs songs like "We shall overcome" a song that changed and traveled all over the world starting as a black spiritual - becoming a union song - and then an anthem for the Civil Rights movement and so many since.

"Something about seeing 400 kids crossing arms and singing we shall overcome is a good feeling for us to see that carried on," Watroba said.

"Utilizing the power of roots music has a lot to teach us about who we are and where we've come from," said Jones, a pastor at Sweet Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church.

The artists remind us that music has always sustained us through the best and worst of times - we use it to marry and to bury - and all the moments in between.

Jones was recently awarded a Kresge Fellowship and Wartroba was just inducted into the International Folk DJ Hall of Fame - and Common Chords is their passion.

"The chord is a perfect metaphor because a chord means more than one note coming together in harmony," Watroba said.

They building bridges through art and music everywhere, hopefully inspiring other musicians along the way.

"We've got to communicate to that audience - those little weird kids - we were those little weird kids 30 years ago - that there's a place for you in American music," Jones said.

"If you're a musician, a young musician who loves playing their own songs in a coffee house, Robert and I will encourage them to put a school program together," Watroba said. "Think about how you can bring this to seniors - think about how you can take the music where it's needed most."

Maybe it's music itself that's needed most right now, to remind us how alike we really are.

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