A new cause is making Pharrell Williams very, well, happy.
The superstar musician, former Voice coach and father of four, 45, has joined forces with American Express to launch an initiative to support arts and music education in schools, kicking off with The Yellow Ball on Sept. 10, a star-studded fundraiser to be held in New York City.
“I’m just super excited. This is about creativity,” Pharrell tells PEOPLE of the initiative. “As you know in education curriculum in this country, art is largely diminishing. We have to protect the creative mind. Virtually everything that is around you was once someone’s epiphany. So it’s awesome to team up with a company like American Express. For them to be into this and want to support this.”
The Yellow Ball, which will feature a performance by his pal Missy Elliott and kick off with a $1 million donation from American Express, has been a hands-on project for the star. “The color yellow was selected and inspired by Pharrell,” explains the financial institution’s chief marketing officer Elizabeth Rutledge. She says Williams, who has been a creative director for their platinum card since 2016, “views the color and event as helping to shine a light on the need for arts education and its ability to pave the way for a brighter future.”
As a former arts student who struggled academically, Williams says it’s a cause close to his heart. Looking back, “I felt like I won the lottery,” he says. “For the longest time I couldn’t explain how I had gotten to where I’ve gotten. I realized my teachers all kept pointing me in a certain direction, without knowing where I was headed, but they just knew I had something.”
He continues, “I wasn’t the best student, but I had teachers who cared, who saw a propensity in me for music. All kids that have something that is recognizable should get that opportunity.”
Williams, the proud father of 19-month-old triplets as well as son Rocket, with his wife Helen Lasichanh, counts his own children as inspiration. “Of course when I think of my children, yes, but I would do this without children,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to make sure that my children will have that [opportunity]… this is about the kids who may not have that kind of force in their life, or the means or the situation or the environment.”
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When it comes to his babies, who he said last year “harmonize when they cry,” he’s nothing but thankful. Asked how he’s managing the work commitments, philanthropic endeavors and daddy duty times three, he says it’s all about “gratitude”.
“I’m blessed,” says the star. “If you realize how lucky you are you take more care. Gratitude is about being aware.” And despite what he calls “the crazy things happening in our country,” the “Happy” singer can’t help but see a silver lining.
“Even in the darkest of times the sun is still shining,” says Williams. As for his work with American Express and the Yellow Ball, “I think it’s a great step. I’m elated.”