Recycled Tunes, Gasparilla Music Festival give gift of music to children in Tampa Bay

Music teacher Melissa Grady remembers a conversation with the mother of one of her old students. 
“‘It changed my kid’s outlook,” Grady recalls the mother saying. “‘It made him think and feel that what he was doing was worth something.’”

The mother was talking about the donated double bass her child received from the nonprofit program Recycled Tunes years ago. After getting the instrument, the child developed a passion for music and went on to attend a performing arts high school. 

Shore Elementary Magnet School of the Arts teacher Melissa Grady with a student.Grady has been a music educator at Shore Elementary Magnet School of the Arts in Ybor City for more than nine years. During her time there, she’s learned that stories like this, where music changed a child’s life, are not uncommon. In fact, the Recycled Tunes program has helped and inspired children throughout Tampa Bay for over a decade. 

A non-profit with a noble cause

The Gasparilla Music Foundation (GMF), the nonprofit organization that produces the annual Gasparilla Music Festival, established Recycles Tunes in 2013 to support music education and local artists. Recycled Tunes collects and repairs unused musical instruments, donating them to schools and children in need of them. 

“It began as a way to give back to the community,” says Recycled Tunes ambassador Tad Denham.

From music drives to individual drop-offs, Recycled Tunes is on the ground, bringing different ways to connect the community and increase access to instruments and education throughout Tampa Bay. 

“It’s critical that students have access to music when they’re in schools,” says Denham. “We’ve heard over the years how sometimes the arts and music program are cut in education programs, but we try to highlight how important music is as a way to support a child’s development.”

Despite cuts to music programs at many schools, music has a much bigger impact on children than many think. Denham highlights how exposing children to music education improves children’s progress in areas like cognitive development, social skills, confidence, increased discipline and even SAT scores. Recycled Tunes states that students involved in music score an average of 102 points higher on the SAT than students not involved in music.Recycled Tunes reached students in nearly 60 schools during 2023.

Grady recalls witnessing these benefits with the student who received the donated bass. She says that the child had struggled with focus issues, but after delving into the bass and the world of music, he became focused, disciplined and attentive. It was an opportunity that completely changed the child’s life, and it would not have been possible without the help of Recycled Tunes. 

“Recycled Tunes is here to make sure we’re there to step in and provide opportunities and fill the gaps,” Denham says. 

Recycled Tunes has a specific focus on supporting schools with economically disadvantaged students. The vast majority of the 56 schools that the program worked with during 2023 were Title 1 elementary schools, where children felt that it was out of reach to be able to have an instrument of their own.  

“They look at it as something they can’t have because of money,” Grady says. “In their minds, they’ve already decided that it’s unattainable. I can’t tell you how many times a child has asked me, ‘It’s mine? It’s really mine?’” 

Once the children receive their instrument, Grady says, “They light up, jump up and down, scream, run up and down the hallways out of excitement.”

Since its inception, the program has helped thousands of wide-eyed, music-loving children. Over just the past four years, Recycled Tunes has worked with over 96 schools, repairing and donating over 2,200 instruments. 

Bringing the community together

Recycled Tunes collects instruments all year round through their website. They’ve also hosted music drives, where people from the area can enjoy live music while they drop off their old, unused instruments. Their latest drive, in January, brought together hundreds of people to Sparkman’s Wharf at Water Street Tampa.

But the biggest event by far is the annual Gasparilla Music Festival. The festival has brought music lovers to downtown Tampa for over a decade. This year’s festival runs from February 16th through 18th at Julian B. Lane Waterfront Park and features, great food, fun activities and performances by more than 50 bands.

The festival supports Tampa Bay’s local music community and gives exposure to local artists. Around 40 percent of the acts performing are from the Bay Area. 

The festival also brings in well-known bands from across the world, with this year’s headlines including Young the Giant, Lake Street Dive, Louis the Child and Big Gigantic. From hip-hop to funk to blues and everything in between, the Gasparilla Music Festival showcases music of all kinds. The proceeds will directly support Recycled Tunes and their mission to bring music education to Tampa’s underprivileged youth.

How to support

Tickets for the Gasparilla Music Festival can be found at, but if you are not able to make it to the festival, you can still support their program by donating an instrument or financially through

Denham encourages us to go through our closets and put old instruments to good use. 

Recycled Tunes' Tad Denham.“At one of our drives, a couple who was donating an instrument walked up to the table with tears in their eyes because of what those instruments meant to them and their children,” Denham recalls. “It goes to show the connection that people have with music and how much music means in someone’s life. It’s a reminder to us why it’s so important to provide music access to kids. You never know who’s gonna have that lifelong connection, whether it’s for pure enjoyment or they chose to make a career out of it.”
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Read more articles by Tashie Tierney.

Tashie Tierney has always been an avid storyteller with a dedication of sharing the inspiring humans within this world. Tashie's innate curiosity and affinity of talking to strangers might have stressed out her parents during her childhood, but it ultimately led her down the path of journalism. She graduated the University of South Florida in 2023 with a degree in International Relations and the hopes that it would take her all across the world. When she's not busy writing the latest story, she's probably either traveling, painting, making music, creating videos, or playing with her bunny. Learn more about Tashie at her travel blog or follow her on Instagram @tashies.travels