When it comes to busy schedules, Charlotte-based percussionist Antonio Diaz’s plate is full. He divides his time between touring with music legends Paul Simon and Cyndi Lauper, working part-time as a flight attendant, caring for his 7-year-old daughter, playing with long-running jazz-funk outfit Groove 8, and co-chairing October’s annual 15 Short Film Festival.
But a few years ago, when he met a family at Target who voiced concern for their daughter’s sudden weight loss, he decided to add another task to his heaping to-do list: Charlotte Does, a concert series that benefits families with what Diaz describes as food insecurities.
“It turned out the father had lost his job and the mother had never worked outside of the house and they weren’t eating very well,” Diaz explains, seated at a table at Central Coffee.
The chance meeting spurred him to start Charlotte Music Heroes and Charlotte Does, a concert series with installments devoted to an individual artist and proceeds benefiting individual families. On Saturday, Charlotte Does takes on African soul songstress Sade at Heist Brewery.
The concert is free, but the group will be taking donations and raffling off surprise Sade memorabilia. The organization’s tribute to Aretha Franklin sold out Blumenthal’s Stage Door Theater in March, following successful tributes to Marvin Gaye and Al Green.
Funds from Saturday’s concert will help feed an 86-year-old retiree who began foregoing meals when her daughter and children moved in with her.
“She was living by herself, living off Social Security and what she saved all those years of working,” Diaz says. “Her daughter noticed her rapidly losing weight.” The other recipients are three foster children from Columbia, S.C., whose foster family withheld meals. School officials noticed the girl and two boys feasting during school lunch as if it was their last meal, and alerted authorities.
The perception is that hunger equals homelessness and poverty, but that’s not always accurate, explains Diaz, who has come across rich, poor and middle-class families in need.
“There are a lot of people in this country living paycheck to paycheck, and their wage is considered middle-class,” he says.
He also found flaws in the way aid is delivered, and a lack of education on how to sustain themselves after aid is gone. Charlotte Music Heroes takes a hands-on approach, meeting with families to discuss cooking, health and shopping economically.
“A lot of people – because they thought it was cheaper – would go to McDonald’s and spend $20 on a family of four, but didn’t know how to cook for themselves,” he says. “We tell a lot of families that we need to teach you how to cook again. The first order of business is to get in the kitchen and let everybody get involved.”
Charlotte Music Heroes connects its families with Blue Apron, and sets up a food budget to get them started.
“We tell them, ‘Don’t pay any bills out of this budget, and use Blue Apron if you like it,’ and pay for it out of the fund,” he says. Diaz has used his connections in the music industry to acquire autographed raffle prizes. Paul Simon put him in touch with Billy Joel’s staff, for instance. Charlotte Does will cover Billy Joel in November.
In a way, helping feed others has brought Diaz full circle. When he was a boy, his mom – who hung out with activists from Martin Luther King’s camp as well as the Winston-Salem chapter of the Black Panthers – used to drop him and his brothers off with the Panthers for free lunch.
“People think it was a violent organization or anti-white, but they did a lot of community stuff,” he says. His passion stems from those early years watching his precinct captain grandmother drive voters to the polls, and listening to his mother’s activist friends. “I always tell people, hunger is terrorism, because in a country with as much food as we have, no kid or adult should go hungry.”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Heist Brewery, 2909 Davidson St.
Tickets: Free (donations encouraged).