In 2005 Mark Johnson, an American producer and sound engineer, was walking down 3rd street in Santa Monica, California. That day a street singer by the name of Roger Ridley was singing the song “Stand By Me” with “so much soul and conviction in his voice” Mark approached him about performing the song for his project, “Songs Around the World”(1). After Roger agreed, Mark went to collect his recording equipment and cameras. Upon his return he asked Roger, “With a voice like yours, why are you singing on the streets?” Roger’s response? “Man I’m in the Joy business, I come out to be with the people”. From that day forward the Playing for Change crew has traveled around the world building a global family by recording and filming musicians in their cultural environment, all while they create their version of “Songs Around The World”(1).
Playing for Change was birthed out of the belief that “music has the power to connect people, regardless of their differences”(2). In 2002 with a shared vision, co-founders Mark Johnson, Raan Williams and Whitney Kroenke decided to take a mobile recording studio and cameras to the streets of America and then on to the streets of the world. Their mission, in search of inspiration, was to discover the inter-rhythm, “the heart” of the people. Their method? They recorded the same song, in each of the locations they visited around the world, by the local musicians, interpreted in their own style. The finished project resulted in an award–winning documentary entitled, “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians”.
Playing for Change has since grown into a multimedia, international music project. In 2007, Playing for Change expanded further with a Foundation that was established as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. This organization is dedicated to building music and art schools for children around the world. They have established 14 music programs across 11 countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand.
Through these programs 1000 young people attend free classes in dance, vocals, instrument instruction, languages and musical theory. These classes are taught by qualified local teachers. PFC also partners with other organizations to help the local communities by providing basic needs such as clean water, solar power, food, medicine, clothes, books and school supplies.
“To date, the lives of more than 16,000 children and community members have been improved through music education and the development efforts of the Playing For Change Foundation, as well as the educational performances through Playing for Change.” (3).
In 2011 the PFC Foundation launched a Playing for Change Day. This day is meant to be a “global celebration of music and its power to unite and uplift communities all over the world” (5). This day was established to provide an opportunity for fans, followers and friends of their movement to participate more directly in PFC's mission and activities. The day strives to unify humanity and empower people all over the world through music.
Always taking place in September, on PFC day communities come together as musicians and music lovers in all parts of the world. They perform on street corners, in schools, yoga studios, in cafes and in large venues. Last year the day resulted in over 300+ events, in 52 countries, on 6 continents, raising nearly $150,000.. The funds are used to provide instruments and support the efforts of the free schools in the communities in which they exist.
Sadly, since “Stand by Me” first aired, Roger Ridley has passed away. But he continues to be in the “Joy Business”. As of November 2016, the “Songs Around the World” video “Stand by Me” has had more than 94 million views on YouTube. The project’s vision lives on.