Call it persistence pays off or some aggressive nudging, but music teacher James Gann has certainly stepped up on behalf of his students.

He has spent countless hours since April writing and calling national sports figures, music icons and television greats and asking them to play a part in an upcoming auction to benefit the music program at Townsend Elementary School. They aren’t making guest appearances, but many have contributed items that will be sold in the auction on Thursday, Oct. 24, at Townsend Elementary School.

Gann reached out to local favorites such as Dolly Parton, Phil Fulmer and Jack Hanna. Gann simply asked for autographs that he can auction off. An items preview begins at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the school. Bidding will continue from 5-7 p.m. as the boys and girls basketball teams at Townsend take on Walland. A community tailgate begins at 4 p.m.

The highest bidders will take home autographed photos of people like Reba McEntire, George Strait and even Ricky Skaggs and Gene Watson. At the end of the night, all money raised will go to the music program at Townsend — a program in need of equipment like risers and instruments.

“The goal in my mind is to purchase choral risers,” Gann explained. “I would like to buy instruments such as different sizes of xylophones and ukuleles for the students.”

He said percussion instruments such as xylophones are highly beneficial in middle and high schools bands since all bands have instruments of this type. Ukuleles are a good introduction to string instruments, he said.

Gann has elicited the help of his mom, Sandy Gann, to help him with the procurement of the donated items. The two have been working since April, contacting the various entertainers and asking for their help. They all have been gracious, James Gann said.

The complete list of autographs also includes signed sheet music by Lee Ann Womack, along with autographed photos of Chris Lane, Florida-Georgia Line, Ray Stevens, Charlie Daniels, Emlly Ann Roberts, University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes, Lionel Ritchie, Il Divo, Pat Boone, Harry Connick Jr., Kane and Barry Manilow. Manilow even signed two plaques commemorating the 40th anniversary of his No. 1 song, “Mandy.”

“Barry Manilow tells the story of how he got his start in high school band,” Gann said. “He said many times that it saved his life.”

And when it came time for Dolly Parton to donate, she did so willingly. Everyone knows how important music was to her as she grew up in the Smoky Mountains, Gann said.

Personal favorites, too

“I am a huge Ray Stevens fan, so we had to get him in there,” Gann said. Jack Hanna is originally from Knoxville so he was a must as well. He is the director of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and has a television program, “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild.”

Country music newcomer Riley Green contributed a signed guitar. The Nashville Predators sent an autographed hockey puck, while the Tennessee Titans contributed a fan pack. The Tennessee Smokes contributed some future game tickets.

Some of the artists have included T-shirts, too.

Gann’s been successful with the project so far because he collects autographs for himself and knows the ins and outs of making contact. He said it’s made easier when the cause is something celebrities can get behind.

Music programs don’t receive the necessary funds to add things like instruments or sound systems. Gann is the music teacher at both Townsend and Eagleton elementaries. He said while Eagleton has its own sound system, Townsend doesn’t. Eagleton also has more than one choral riser, which Townsend is lacking.

Music teachers in Blount County elementary schools got $750 for the school year as their budgets. Gann said that isn’t enough to provide all that he wants for his students. The auction is a way to get there, he said.

“When I go to Towsend, I go one day a week and teach the entire school,” the teacher said. “It is a small school. When we have a program, every student performs. A lot of time, we are borrowing from Eagleton.”

This is Gann’s ninth year teaching for Blount County Schools, and he did his student teaching here as well.

The auction, Gann hopes, will allow him to buy more music supplies so these students can pursue it as far as they want to go.

“I just want to give them the tools they need to succeed,” he said.

As he looked around the room at all that has been collected, Gann had to smile in appreciation. “We are grateful for everything,” he said. “This turned into way more than I could have dreamed.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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