ABC’s ‘Secret Millionaire’ episode in Knoxville still impacting school nearly a decade later

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Nearly 10 years ago, a film crew came to Knoxville under the guise of shooting a “documentary” with a few local nonprofits and a family going through a tough time.

The crew was actually producing an episode of “Secret Millionaire,” which aired on ABC nationwide March 2011.

One of the nonprofits highlighted in the show was the Joy of Music School.

The school, provides free instruments and music lessons to around 200 kids, with the help of 100 volunteer teachers and monetary donations.

While the impact of the episode on the local nonprofit has slowed, a woman from Pennsylvania made a recent donation because of the show.

Sheila Grimm remembers watching the Knoxville episode with her husband, David. The two owned a music store near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for twenty years and closed the doors in 2007. This left them with a lot of leftover inventory, including instruments, supplies, and music books. She kept the episode tucked in the back of her mind, as she and her husband wanted to partner with the school eventually.

“I just thought it was a wonderful organization,” she said.

When David passed away last July, Sheila was pretty sure of where she wanted to send all the stuff.

“I wanted to try to donate as many of the books and instruments that we possibly could. i know that he would have loved that,” she said.

Grimm has already shipped out several hundred music books to the school and is currently working with school staff on what instruments the school could use. She’s happy to make the donations, even if it just helps one student, she said.

Francis Graffeo, Executive Director for the Joy of Music School, remembers getting the call from a producer wanting to do a documentary on the school. Graffeo, unsure of how many people would ever see the “documentary,” agreed.

Dani Johnson came back two days later, wore nicer clothes and jewelry, and told Frank and his staff that she was not actually looking for a volunteer opportunity. Johnson is actually a successful business woman. She wrote the school a $40,000 check, which Graffeo said was 10% of their operating budget that year.

After receiving the check, the question still remained: What was the point of the film crew?

“I said so, who are you? He (producer) said, well this is going to be on ABC television. That freaked me out… he said, ‘listen to me, get ready,'” Frank recalled.

Frank got the school ready for an influx of online donations.

“We just could not believe that people just started going to the website in the thousands,” he said. “…people of course started making cash donations. It was unbelievable, just going to our website and clicking donate now. But, we also started receiving instruments, so the truck would pull up each day with more and more instruments from everywhere.”

The show was advertised during the Super Bowl and the Oscars, Frank and some students were featured on Good Morning America leading up to the episode.

Frank estimated the total donations, in cash and instruments, to be around $250,000 – all from the show’s reach.

It also helped promote the mission of the school in and around Knox County.

While Frank is uplifted when he looks back on the flood of support to the school nearly 10 years ago, he also explained Monday the nationwide support have dwindled and now the school is primarily dependent on the generosity of the local community.

If you’d like to donate your time or money, click here to find out how.

“The art and discipline of music is a gateway to a successful life, especially if a kid has a talent for…it’s developed by this caring adult (volunteer teacher) who is in their once a week with them, giving their time, turning them into a better person using something they already had inside themselves. That’s inspiration.”

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