HOUSTON, Texas -- For 36 years, Houston teacher Jose Antonio Diaz has been changing lives through music.
He first started his teaching career at Aldine MacArthur High School in 1985.
"When I came to MacArthur High School, the first thing I wanted to really do is change the whole stigma of band kids being nerds," said Diaz. "They were asking me, 'Well, who are you? I said, I'm the new band director. They said, 'You're the new band director? You don't look like the new band director. I said, what do you mean? 'You look kind of cool.' Well, musicians are cool, what are you talking about?"
Over the years, Diaz transformed the schools marching band and jazz ensembles, helping his students regularly earn Division I placements. He also founded the acclaimed non-profit Diaz Music Institute in 2000, which provides music education in underserved areas.
"The Diaz Music Institute is a non-profit that I started to work with kids of color who don't have opportunities to receive really high-level instruction at an extremely nominal cost," said Diaz.
Diaz Music Institute is considered to be the top Hispanic music organization of its kind, with programs including the Latin Jazz Summer Workshop; the Latin Jazz Jam Music Festival; Caliente, the repertoire ensemble for the institute and Noche Caliente, a music festival held annually at Miller Outdoor Theater.
"It's very exciting to see the levels that these kids have gotten to," Diaz said. "We have kids who have left this program that have gone on to graduate from prestigious schools like Harvard, Berklee College of Music, we have kids that have left this program that have gone on to play with Stevie Wonder, have won Grammys, have won Stellar Awards. I mean, the list goes on and on."
Diaz was among 30 teachers selected this year by the CMA Foundation, a national music education nonprofit, as a Music Teacher of Excellence. He will attend the Country Music Awards in Nashville this week.
"The CMA Foundation is just an incredible organization," said Diaz. "They are a huge support for music education. They are a huge support for music educators. It's not just for country music. They support all genres and music education programs throughout the country."
He's also received numerous other accolades over the years, including a Grammy nomination. In 2017, Diaz beat out 3,000 teachers around the country to be selected as a finalist for the Grammy Foundations Music Educator Award. In 2014, he won a Hispanic Heritage Award by the Houston Mayors office and also won an Arts in the Community Award.