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September 23, 2010

The Leopards Take Manhattan

by leslitoons

THE LEOPARDS TAKE MANHATTAN: The Little Band that Roared
is a half-hour special about the musical journey of the Louisville Leopard Percussionists, a percussion ensemble of elementary school kids (ages 7-11 years old) from Louisville, Kentucky. This is the last of three 30-minute documentaries that provide a fresh look at the many ways music can have a vital, profound impact on young lives. Created by Leslie and the same team of producers and directors from HBO Family who were honored with the 2006 Peabody Award for THE MUSIC IN ME, they continue to explore the heart and soul of every young musician – and the power of music to make us all feel more alive.


The Leopards hail from various racial and economic backgrounds and, with no musical training, come together with the shared desire to learn how to play percussion instruments and perform as a group. With the leadership of founder Diane Downs, the Louisville Leopard Percussionists are a musical force, charming us with their special arrangements of sophisticated jazz songs. They don’t learn to read music; these children play by ear. They work collectively to create their arrangements and diligently teach each other until the entire group learns each song. Their hard work and passion earns them the trip of their lives: a chance to perform in New York City for the most prestigious and largest audience they will ever face as a Louisville Leopard. The young musicians “open the show” for a concert featuring National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and Grammy-winning composer/pianist Chick Corea at the International Association of Jazz Educators national conference, an annual gathering uniting the global jazz community with over 7,000 aficionados and musicians in attendance from around the world. The LLP’s performance of Caravan (by Duke Ellington), Spain (by Chick Corea), and Sing Sing Sing (by Louis Prima) brings down the house. For the children from Louisville, this is the achievement of a lifetime.

This documentary has touched many since its initial and repeat airings on HBO. Most significantly, educators, parents and musicians across the US have reached out to Diane Downs personally to congratulate her on creating an innovative program that cuts through many impediments to musical study and allows any child to achieve at the highest level. THE LEOPARDS TAKE MANHATTAN has brought Diane Downs’ unique vision to a national audience, sharing her inspiring methods and exciting outcomes with those who need to know about them. The producers are proud and gratified to have given Diane Downs and the LLP an opportunity to spread the word that all kids have the capacity for the highest levels of achievement. THE LEOPARDS TAKE MANHATTAN demonstrates how much can be accomplished in one community, and has encouraged others to follow suit with copycat programs in their own towns and schools. Since the program’s initial broadcast, viewers young and old have been thrilled to see how music can positively impact a young person’s life, and inspired to think outside the box about music education and the possibility of musical greatness in every child’s future.

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