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Michael Manson

Executive Director

Michael Manson is a talented, school educated, and experienced musician, and music educator. His training is inclusive of intensive work in the Classic, Jazz, Gospel and R&B genres of music. Also, inclusive of his Christian philosophy and training, giving is an crucial part of his lifestyle. In keeping with this, music as a gift is meant that is meant to serve. Therefore Michael feels that the gift, that was given to him, is to be given back to serve others and specifically his community.


He has studied and earned a Bachelor Degree in Music Education from Chicago State University and a Master of Music in Music Education with emphasis on Orchestra Conducting from The Biennen School of Music at Northwestern University. He continues to sharpen his skills in the field of music education technology at the Vandercook college of Music. Michael has been able to play and perform his music literally all over the world. Performances in front of thousands of people in Northern and Southern Asia, all parts of Europe, Northern and Southern Africa, South America, New Zealand, Mexico, and Caribbean islands. Why is this important? The students that our undeserved communities do have dreams. They dream of give this gift of music back to people all over the world. Some even have proper motives regarding performing. Dreams of stardom are often fleeing, but a lot of students just dream of sharing their gifts with others. These students should hear this from someone who has lived that dream, and accomplished that dream. In addition, they have to be shown the path to achieving that dream and goal. 


The road on the way to accomplishing these dreams is filled with many detours and exits. The study of music can be difficult and most performers would say that practicing long hours could be perceived as being boring and fatiguing.  Unless one sees the “light at the end of the tunnel”, it is easy to fall into discouragement. This why Michael documents all musical journeys and musical successes. He has performed and/or recorded with the best names in music, including Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, David Sanborn, Joe Sample, Roberta Flack, The Winans, Jessy Dixon, Tramaine Hawkins, George Duke, James Cleveland, Brian Culbertson, Steve Cole, Rick Braun, Norman Brown and Diane Reeves, just to name a few. In addition to performing with great artist Michael has produced 3 Billboard top 10 jazz cd projects that feature most of the afore mentioned artists on his own compositions. His fourth cd “Thumpin’ Live” which is a live CD/DVD project is due out in January 2014 of this year.  Those who are being mentored have to be able to see and experience what is possible, from someone who has “been where they are going”. The Grammy winner and jazz/R&B keyboardist George Duke now is Michael’s most important mentor. And has been for the last 13 years. Michael says he looks to George as an example of what excellence looks like. Not only excellence, but also self-expression. That is essentially what each of us is looking to do. It just so happens to be that music is their chosen vehicle in which to do it.


For our students, and those that we mentor, to have them learn express themselves with excellence, is our goal.  After teaching in the traditional school systems for over 16 years, (in Evanston District 65, Northbrook District 28 and Chicago Public Schools) Michael felt an overwhelming need to establish an environment where even the most socio-economically or educationally disadvantaged students could come and find a nurturing but challenging place to explore themselves through the art and discipline of music. This environment, away from the constraints of a traditional school building, is also a haven for those who are gifted in music and need a challenging place that has “no limits” on how much that a student can explore their gifts and talents.

Lana Manson

Co - Executive Director

Lana, Co-executive and Co-founder of the Musical Arts Institute, is a native of Chicago. She is a graduate of Fisk University where she was a member of the acclaimed Fisk Jubilee Singers. After completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education, she continued her studies at Northwestern University completing her Master of Music degree in Voice. She also holds a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from the University of Illinois – Chicago. She has taught Music in public and private schools for more than 17 years and has conducted many local and state award-winning ensembles.

Lana has coached and written music for many of Chicago’s finest soloists and recording ensembles including the Chicago Mass Choir, The Soul Children of Chicago, Valley Kingdom Ministries, Evangelist Lemme Battle, Gina Thurston, and many others. She currently serves as Assistant Director of Music for St. James AME Church of Chicago. In 2008, she released her 1st recording titled “Worthy – A Christmas Cantata”. This project features the talents of extraordinary gospel icons Desmond Pringle, Queenie Lennox, Kim McFarland and Angela Martin of Chicago radio 1390. She recently recorded her 2nd project titled “Glory- A Good Friday Cantata” which is scheduled for release in 2013.


Lennette Neal


Lennette F. Neal is currently a violin instructor at the Musical Arts Institute. She is an employee of the Chicago Public Schools where she is the Director of the All-City High School Orchestra, and an associate choir director at the Liberty Baptist Church of Chicago.

Lennette’s love of music started when she was just a little girl. She began playing the piano at the age of 4 and the violin at the age of 5. She studied violin under the tutelage of Ms. Tamaki Mizukami for over 10 years. She was a member of the Classical Youth Symphony for four years. Lennette was a music major at Kenwood Academy High School where she was in the band and orchestra, and played several different instruments. Lennette attended DePaul University, where she was a member of the DePaul Symphony Orchestra and also a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. She graduated from Chicago State University with a BA in Secondary Education, where she majored in Music and minored in Mathematics. She attended grad school at the American College of Education, majoring in Educational Leadership/Administration. Lennette has performed throughout the United States and in several countries including Austria and Hungary.

Lennette is the wife of Rev. Richard L. Neal, Jr. They have been married for 19 years and have two children.


Stephen Styles

Director Of Programming / Drum Instructor

Chicago native Stephen Styles has been with the Musical Arts Institute since our opening in 2010. Stephen considers his first drum lesson at the age of twelve to be the real beginning of his drumming experience. His early musical foundation was laid in the traditional Black church. Those gospel roots gave Stephen the chance to become familiar with various styles of music, while also teaching him the importance of playing with passion. After graduating from Curie High School for Performing Arts (where he performed with Jazz, Concert, and Marching Bands), Stephen continued to enhance his skills at Chicago State University.


Over the years, Stephen has traveled all across the country, performing in very diverse musical situations. In addition to his work as a drummer and instructor, Stephen is also a published journalist. He's been a regular contributing writer  for Modern Drummer Magazine for almost three years, and writes freelance for other publications as well.

Tim Gant


Tim Gant has 25 years tenure in the music industry as a musician, events coordinator and band manager. Since 1992, Gant has worked with artists such as Will Downing, En Vogue and Heather Headley, just to skim the surface of his work ethic. Gant has traveled the world making a steady contribution in the music industry and receiving platinum and gold status on various projects. In the past, he has worked on projects with Nick Colionne and Rick Braun.


He currently is working on writing and producing a gospel project for Jacqueline Thomas, an independent artist, and he is producing three tunes for a Christmas project on Ashro Records as well as touring with Nick Colionne and Will Downing. Gant's passion and zeal for music has brought him too far to stop now.

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Julian Otis


Julian Terrell Otis is proud to reunite with “this trio of impressive vocal soloists” (New York Times) in the West Coast premiere of Afterword. His vocal improvisations have been called ‘instrumental’ and highly sensitive to the ensemble’s texture. He has become an enthusiastic interpreter of contemporary music most recently lending his ringing tenor sound to Anthony R. Green’s …I Shall Shake His Hand… curated by Fulcrum Point New Music Project and Nkeiru Okoye’s Harriet Tubman: When I Cross That Line to Freedom (South Shore Opera Company). As a student Julian was able to explore the choral works of Ted Hearne, James MacMillan, Sebastian Currier and other contemporary composers under the baton of Donald Nally. Julian wishes to explore the limitless possibilities of his instrument’s expressive capacity through song, improvisation, and theatrical works.

Vinnie Roofe


Vinnie Roofe is a guitarist/producer/song-writer .  He started studying Jazz in high school.  In College where he attended Columbia, he became a film score major.  Along with jazz as a core of his musical passion, he gravitated to Gospel, R&B, funk, Hip-Hop, soul & probably more prevalent, reggae music.  Born in the U.S.A in Chicago, his parents and elder sibling was born in Spanish Town Jamaica. Reggae is his roots. 

He has worked or performed with Syleena Johnson, Carl Thomas, Mike Manson, Alfonzo Hunter,  Steve & Candy Laflora,, Corey Wilkes, Vince Davis just to name a few.  He has had the opportunity to work with productions teams in Jamaica at Anchor Studio’s & Junior Reed studio.  “My number one goal is to allow the music to express itself clearly, in it’s own form. Whatever form that maybe”. 

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Steve Berry


Stephen Berry has performed throughout the world and has recorded or performed with such artists as Tony Bennet, Lou Rawls, Frank Sinatra, the Dells, the O'Jays, Nancy Wilson, Lena Horne and Edward Wilkerson's Shadow Vignettes. As an educator, he taught trombone and theory classes at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) School of Music, and he coordinated the Jazz Express and Classical Express music education programs in Chicago Public Schools for WBEZ-FM. Berry has several compositions recorded and released on the Delmark label.


Recent highlights include a series of workshops and performances with New Horizons Ensemble at the Banellieu Blues Jazz Festival in Paris and the Debrecen Jazz festival in Hungary, as well as performances of the South African Opera, Princess Magogo at Ravinia with The Chicago Sinfonetta. Along with Ernest Dawkins and Sherman Storey, Steve formed Chicago Creative Arts Online, Inc. an online video streaming company featuring legendary and young Chicago creative improvisers on its website,

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Angel Elmore


Angel Elmore is a pianist, clarinetist, multi-media visual artist, vocalist, composer/music producer living and working on the South Side of Chicago. Her work incorporates found objects, found images, found sounds and energies she discovers and excavates from around her home studio in the historically artistic Grand Crossing neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. In making use of things discarded, she discards distinctions between genres and art forms. Elmore has served as the musical director of the MB Collective and has performed also with the Borderbend Arts Collective, David Boykin Expanse, and Renee Baker’s Chicago Modern Orchestra.


She is also a collaborator and member of the Participatory Music Coalition, and has been a featured composer/performer at Elastic Arts Foundation Siren Song women in jazz series.

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Paul Cotton

African Drums

Paul Cotton is a principal musician with the Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago. For over two decades, Paul has studied West African, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Caribbean drums and percussion. Recently, Paul has co-led drum circles for peace across the south side of Chicago.

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Alexandria Hill


Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Alexandria began studying the violin at the age of 9. While in Columbus, she was an avid chamber musician and arts administration intern for the Chamber Music Connection. She earned her Bachelor of Music from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, studying violin with Dr. Won-Bin Yim. During her time in Cincinnati she taught students at MYCincinnati, making her passionate about promoting diversity in the musical arts.


Alexandria is now completing her Master of Music at Roosevelt University, studying with violinist Frank Almond. She plans to stay in Chicago, focusing on both performing and teaching.

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Anthony Clausell


Anthony Clausell is originally from Alabama, and has always loved music, specifically drums and percussion. He began formal instruction in middle and junior high school band. He accepted a full scholarship from Alabama A&M University in 1992, where he had the opportunity to be a member of the AAMU jazz, symphonic, and pep band, and continued his percussion education under Arthur B. Wesley. He became a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Music Fraternity, Inc (ΦΜΑ) with a focus on marching band.


After attending Alabama A&M University, Clausell enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he joined the Air Force Drum and Bugle Corp and continued to pursue his style of snaring drumming.


Since leaving the Air Force and relocating to Chicago, Clausell has continuously worked as a professional musician with five separate ensembles. He is also an instructor with the Musical Arts Institute, based in Chicago. With his passion for percussion, specifically in the area of drumline, his goal is to build a community-based venture in which he provides instruction to highly motivated and talented youths in my local community. This opportunity would yield hope, inspiration, and academia that could change lives within the youth of our community.

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James Perkins


As a multifaceted and versatile musician, saxist and woodwind player, The James Perkins performance repertoire reads like a virtual “who’s who” of the music business. Having played on over 250 albums, thousands of jingles, commercials and industrials, and having been on hundreds of tours and productions locally, nationally and abroad with everybody from Albert King to Bobby Lyle, he has indeed enjoyed the title of “Chicago’s 1st call saxophonist” for the last twenty years.

Mr. Perkins has also been the recipient of several awards, some of which include; The 1986 Budweiser Showdown Award for 1st place R&B group (which included a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records), Several awards of merit for musical contributions and services during numerous tours of Japan from 1986 to 1992. In 1988 he was selected and awarded a permanent listing to the “Outstanding Young Americans” journal as well as having his locally led group ‘The James Perkins Ensemble’ featured at the renowned Chicago Jazz Festival. During his military service tours as a member of U.S Navy Band (1994-2000) he received several awards of merit, which also included a ‘Letter of Commendation for Outstanding Performance of Duties’ from the Commander of Naval Station Great Lakes.

Born and educated in Chicago (Northeastern Illinois University), James not only plays and teaches woodwinds, but also leads two performing groups; The James Perkins Ensemble, and The James Perkins Trio. James also leads “The Perks”, a horn section that has gained much notoriety and respect amongst the more serious bands in the Chicago area.

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