On June 25, 2016, Kevin Lamont Randolph passed away. Randolph was a musician, educator, and lover of life. Born in Indianapolis, Kevin Randolph attended IPS 110, the Key Learning Community High School, and Butler University. He began his musical studies on viola but later switched to violin. Kevin was involved with the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (MYO) from its inception in 1995—first as a student, and later as the Program Coordinator. We met with Krystle Ford, Associate Director of the MYO, to learn more and share Kevin’s story.
Thanks for doing this, Krystle. Can you tell us who was Kevin Randolph? What were some of the things he did?
He was born in Indianapolis. He started playing on the viola at his school, and he eventually switched to violin. He joined the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra (MYO) when it first started in 1995, with Ms. Perry. He seemed to be very musically gifted all along—he was just always drawn to it; but that [his talent] didn’t really get cultivated until he started taking lessons and playing in orchestra. I know at first when he joined, it was just a way to get out of class! He thought he was getting out of class and doing something that was just kind of fun, but he eventually grew to love it.
He started taking lessons and he got really good on the violin, really fast. It just seemed like overnight he had these skills that… had this improvement that I’ve never seen before. He practiced all the time. He really worked hard. That was just in him, he worked hard at everything he did.
He had to take care of himself. He was a child of poverty and he did not have the best home life. He bounced around from a bunch of different homes and ended up staying with his great grandmother. He got himself to rehearsals and things. He rode the bus everywhere and to get to the Children’s Museum for MYO. We practically lived there, I mean, we were there all the time. Especially on Saturdays, we were there all day. We were always in our little corner just hanging out playing music, talking about music, and arranging…
Then he started teaching. He always used to joke and say “I don’t like kids unless they have an instrument in their hands!” but that just was not true. He was drawn to his students and would talk with them about other things in their life outside of music. He would really show them he was a caring adult. He was also a very tough teacher, which is good, because I think more students need that. He had very high expectations for them [his students]. He was, at times, abrasive with that and people misinterpreted it, but they ended up loving him because they could play. He cared about them and he showed them that they could overcome things. It just goes to show that it’s not going to break a child if you are a little hard on them.
The thing I loved about his teaching was that it didn’t matter how old you were. He still had the same high expectation of you. So, even if you were 7, you could still do your best at 7. You can do more than what you think you can do.
He impacted a lot of kids over the years. Some of his students were MYO students who have now grown. A lot of them came back to see him at the MYO 20th anniversary concert. In New York, he became the Artistic Director of the program [the Noel Pointer Foundation]. He had a lot of responsibility for the program and he really grew it. He was working a job in California, but the company went bankrupt. So I was like, “this is perfect! Come to New York because I need a teacher for summer camp.” He came and did a complete 180 on these kids and it was just amazing. I asked him to stay because I needed a teacher for the fall. I told him when he came out that it was my last year so I said “I need you to come take over for my students—come take over as artistic director.” He came out there and just… ran with it. He was doing everything. He was teaching, doing administrative work, and arranging. It just grew very quickly. He made a big impact on all of those kids out there.
Kevin has a really great story of how music can transform a life, can you share a little bit about that?
Well, I think if you’re growing up with poverty or you’re not in a stable home life, every kid is always looking for stability and for a caring adult. The fact that he was able to escape his home life, even if it was just for a few hours a day, to be around positive adults and positive kids… and he was getting that structure that comes from learning an instrument. So, coming to rehearsal on time, being prepared, having your pencil and your folder. All of those things I think helped transform his life early on. I just think the consistency of being somewhere with like-minded people in a safe space… I think that gave him his ticket out. There was no idle time to get in trouble. You are in this place where you are expected to be there for a certain amount of time and you have people who are counting on you—whether that’s your teachers or your peers in the orchestra. All of those things just kind of helped bring him out of his situation.
MYO used to gig a lot. Ms. Perry would take us all over the place and make sure that wherever we played we had a spot at the table, too. She taught us how to talk to people that we may not have anything in common with—she calls it advocating for yourself. Going out like that puts you in a different circle and shows you a different aspect of your city. All of that is what helped bring him out of his situation. He got so good that he could play anywhere. He would play a jazz gig and then turn around and play a classical gig in the same day. All of that helped to bring him out of his environment. He started doing all of these great things… it goes to show that you don’t have to be a product of your environment. If your mindset can change, everything can change around you—that’s what transformed him and, of course, he started instilling that in his students, too. All that got passed on.
How can people help honor Kevin’s legacy? Are there any places they can donate?
They can donate to the Noel Pointer Foundation. A lot of the students are there on scholarship and any donations will go directly to the students—to lessons, instruments, and other stuff. NPF is going to start up a scholarship in his name, so donations will go directly to the students of that foundation.
Anything else that you would like to add?
Kevin was just an extremely funny guy. A lot of people thought he was super serious, but he was very funny; very witty and heavily into technology. He just loved life. He was always out traveling, doing something crazy. He was doing off-the-wall things I would never do. He would call me and be like, “hey I’m in a desert!” and that’s the kind of stuff he liked to do, have all kinds of adventures.