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Concert to aid Toddlers Academy
[January 07, 2010]

Concert to aid Toddlers Academy

DURHAM, Jan 07, 2010 (The Herald-Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Saxophonist Stanley Baird and bass players Freeman Ledbetter and Chip Shearin are veteran musicians with strong ties to Durham's music scene. They came together Wednesday not to play music but to celebrate their common connection to Toddlers Academy, a child-care center that was damaged in a fire last September.

Later this month, saxophonist Marion Meadows will join Baird, Ledbetter and Shearin in a benefit concert to help with the restoration of the center on Beechwood Drive. The fire destroyed the office and many of the school's books, computers and student records. The only evidence of the fire Wednesday was some storage pods containing items from the center. Inside, the building boasts new drywall boards. It is being upgraded for a prospective re-opening sometime in February.

Baird, Ledbetter and Shearin, who came to the center Wednesday for a news conference to promote the benefit concert, also talked about their various ties to Toddler's Academy. Baird's daughter Maritza, now 33, went to the center, and her matron of honor "was someone she met here when they were crawling around on their knees," Baird said. Ledbetter's daughter Adia, a vocalist, also attended Toddlers Academy. "They used to call this 'the little school,' " Ledbetter said.

Shearin grew up near the center, and went to Hillside High School with Valerie Whitted, whose mother Lonita Whitted is the center's director. She founded the center with her husband David Whitted, now deceased. Shearin, who is based in Los Angeles, said he wanted to do something for the center because he sees a lot of people "doing a lot of positive things because of what Mrs. Whitted did." Shearin came to Hillside's Class of '79 reunion, held after the fire, and offered his help. He called Meadows, with whom he has played bass, and told him about the benefit, and Meadows agreed to perform. Shearin will perform with Meadows' band. Ledbetter will perform jazz standards in a trio. Baird will perform with his group, playing compositions from their new CD "Traffic Jam." Shearin added: "And then, we'll probably have a jam session ... and just make it a shared event musically." Marlynn Jones, whose child Faith attends Toddlers Academy, was at Wednesday's event. She is helping to drum up sponsors for the benefit. Her daughter misses going to the Beechwood facility. "When we drive by now, she says, 'I want to go back to my school,' " Jones said.

"We've been embraced by everyone, and it's such a good feeling," said Lonita Whitted of the support for the benefit and the rebuilding. Since the fire, Toddlers Academy has been using space in Early Explorers Playschool as a satellite. She said Ledbetter, who also builds houses, was working on a site in the neighborhood after the fire, and came over and offered help and advice.

The academy has about 40 children, but once the facility reopens, Whitted expects the numbers to rise. She expects to be licensed for as many as 120, but prefers not to have more than 100 children. She plans to add some programs when the academy reopens -- speech therapy, a dance class and a half-day program.

Toddlers Academy was founded in 1972. Since then, it has provided early childhood education to thousands of children ages 6 weeks to 5 years.

WHAT: Benefit for Toddlers Academy child care. Stanley Baird, Marion Meadows, Chip Shearin and Freeman Ledbetter and Friends will perform WHEN: Jan. 30. Reception begins at 5 p.m., music begins at 6 WHERE: PSI Theater, Durham Arts Council, 120 Morris St.

ADMISSION: Tickets are $75. To purchase, use using [email protected] or call (919) 235-2958 To see more of The Herald-Sun, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

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