Oakland schools music teacher makes it as semifinalist for Grammy award

A music teacher who teaches Oakland public school students has made it as a semi-finalist for the Grammy Awards.

Zack Pitt-Smith has been teaching middle and high school students for 15 years. He's also a professional musician.    

On Friday night at Rocky's Market by the Oakland Estuary, a KTVU crew was there as he performed with the Oakland Samba Revue.

Performing and teaching music is Pitt-Smith's life.

He is now among the 25 semi-finalists from across the country up for the Grammy's Music Educator of the Year award for his work as a music teacher for the Oakland Unified School District.

"Being a teacher and being a performer to me is very much entwined," Pitt-Smith said the nomination gives his students a voice and a stage. 

"Kids are coming from all parts of humanity and some with more trauma than others," said the 46-year-old, "It's about reaching children and it's about lifting people up to be the leaders of tomorrow."

Performing with Pitt-Smith on this night was 16-year-old Kazeem Elebute from Oakland Tech High School.

He is among the thousands of public school students that Pitt-Smith has taught and mentored.

"Holding you to a really high standard. I definitely think he's played that card on me a couple of times and I felt it. He's really expected a lot of me. He really believes in me." said the teenager from East Oakland who's being raised by a single mother.

The student said Pitt-Smith inspired him to play music and describes his teacher as a father figure. "Always has been a good rock to lean on always encourages you," Elebute said.

Pitt-Smith and his student jazz band from Edna Brewer Middle School performed at Yoshi's and impressed a Pixar producer who hired them to perform the music for a scene in the movie "Soul."

Pitt-Smith hopes the lessons he teaches his students  transcend the classroom. "Learn how to hold your head high and have discipline. To me that's much more important than the musical aspect."

The music teacher will know in December whether he will be among the ten finalists for the Grammy award.

But he said in many ways, he's already won.

In his words, it's about reaching students and seeing the magic.