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Mr. O’s Academy of the Arts and singer-songwriters Emiliano Valdez and Michael Annotti collaborated with residents of Hollister, California,  to create Voices of the Community, an original music production. Through a community songwriting process, the artists gathered the personal stories of Hollister residents, focusing on the social issues affecting the economically stressed area.

Local songwriters and vocal performers were convened by the lead artists for the project while Mr. O’s Academy of the Arts pulled together and rehearsed a Hollister-based jazz band of area musicians, documenting and performing songs inspired by project participants. The project culminated with production of a CD and “A Night of Music” performance at El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista.

Lead artist Emiliano Valdez is a fourth-generation musician, performer, and songwriter. He is the first-born son of the singer, composer, and actor Daniel Valdez—a founding member of El Teatro Campesino—and he served as resident music director of El Teatro Campesino from 1996-2002.Currently, he is project manager for San Benito County Arts Council’s artists in the schools program. Composer Annotti’s family has been based in San Benito County for generations. Annotti has opened for Jimmy Cliff, Don Carlos, Mikey Dread, Midnite and Prezident Brown and performed many shows around the Bay Area.

Joseph Ostenson (Mr. O) became a music teacher in Hollister in 1965 and spent the next 45 years shaping the school district’s music programs. In 2012, he realized a life-long dream when he opened the doors to Mr. O’s Academy of the Arts in downtown Hollister. The Academy offers music lessons on all instruments.