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Willie Garfield

Garfield Institute of Music
Memphis, Tennessee

When Willie Garfield was 13 years old, he started a community drumline with a few of his junior high marching bandmates. “That’s when I realized that I wanted to be a music instructor,” he said. “I wanted to create my own program where I could instruct, perform and demonstrate my talents. That was when the Garfield Institute of Music was born.”

And Garfield hasn’t slowed down since. He negotiated contracts with public and charter schools and community organizations in Memphis and opened the first Garfield Institute of Music there. In addition to music, the institute offers classes in dance, arts, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and leadership.

Garfield soon expanded to Columbia, South Carolina, and he hopes to open Garfield Institutes of Music in Orlando and Atlanta soon.

Garfield has been a strong advocate for music education and a community leader by providing access to music to underserved youth. During the pandemic, Garfield still operated his school, offering classes for free and following proper safety protocols. His school even offered to pick up students and carpool with parents so children could attend music classes.

In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Willie has led by being among the finest examples of a true professional in music education. He has fought against adversity, obstacles and a pandemic that has not only taken the lives of our loved ones but affected the growth of music education. … and he hasn’t complained one time about compensation.”

Another colleague wrote, “He has gone the extra mile to make sure the fundamentals of music education didn’t pause because of the pandemic. … He has imprinted greatness, discipline, dedication and growth in the community by keeping music alive during a pandemic and not giving up.”   

Garfield knows the lifelong positive effects of music education. “My proudest moments as a music educator is when I see my students follow my path and carry the wisdom and experience they have gained from me,” he said. “I never had the support system or mentors like many educators. I traveled that road alone, being fearless in the eyes of my peers, but this ’40 Under 40′ recognition gives me the courage to stand strong.”