Walker West Academy Leads the Way in Saint Paul’s Youth Music Scene

Walker West Music Academy celebrates a rich tradition in the Summit-University neighborhood.
Co-founder Grant West, co-founder Rev. Carl Walker and executive director Peter E. Leggett.

While students and instructors work on their musical craft at Walker West Music Academy, passion is what keeps the tempo steady on a daily basis. With more than 200 young musicians flocking to the Selby Avenue building every week, it is easy to see, and hear, why this institution has become a leading name in youth music education statewide.

“It all comes down to our history in the neighborhood,” says Peter E. Leggett, executive director of Walker West Music Academy. “We’ve been here for going on 30 years now, and our music and dedication reflects the culture of our community.”

According to Leggett, the Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul historically had one of the highest African-American populations in the area. When Interstate 94 was built, it ran straight through the heart of that area, tearing apart a major portion of that community. “What remained started to shift towards the Summit-University neighborhood, where we are today,” Leggett said. “[Reverend Carl] Walker and [Grant] West were instrumental in helping to revitalize this community.”

Grant West, half of the academy’s namesake, has nothing but glowing words of respect for the institution’s community. “I’m just so very proud of the many people that have made us relevant for [so many years],” West says. “I like to say that we are owned by our community. We grow together.”

The relationship between Walker West Music Academy and the Summit-University neighborhood is certainly a two-way street. While the area has benefited from the school’s positive presence, the school also relies on the community for enrolment and audience at their many public events.

Over the years, students at Walker West Music Academy have benefited from the supportive atmosphere at the school. A major reason for that feeling of closeness comes from the academy’s focus on one-on-one instruction. That was one of Leggett’s points of emphasis as he assumed the role of executive director. “Music education is all about meeting the student where they’re at,” Leggett says. “Eventually, some of these students use this experience to take off, and music becomes a lifelong endeavor.”

Since its founding in 1988, Walker West Music Academy has graduated hundreds of artists, with many of them going on to perform on celebrated programs such as The Late Show with David Letterman as well as at local events including the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

Two years ago, Walker West Music Academy moved into a new 6,000 square foot facility, across the street from the original school building. In Leggett’s words, the move “really transformed the organization” and now, it’s poised to become as vibrant on the outside of its building as it is on the inside. The school is close to meeting a $250,000 capital campaign goal which will fund a new state of the art installation by noted Saint Paul artist Ta-Coumba Aiken, whose work will be fabricated onto large steel plates, covering more than 2,000 square feet of the building’s façade.

“Each piece will be enameled, so they will really resist the elements,” says Leggett.

The installation will likely be unveiled to the public in spring 2017. “We’re excited because not only will it change the face of our building, but we’re looking forward to the vibrancy and energy it will bring to the Summit-University area,” says Leggett.