By Shirley Brady Three months after joining Viacom as the new VP and executive director of the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, Paul Cothran found himself sharing the stage with a roster of ’80s music stars and looking out at a roaring crowd of music lovers at New York City’s famed China Club. The Nov. 4 fundraiser for Save the Music, which donates musical instruments to schools in partnership with VH1’s affiliates, was billed as "Songwriters in the Round: Generations 3—The Best of the ’80s." The lineup of Cyndi Lauper, Patty Smyth, Desmond Child, the Hooters and British duo the Fixx attracted a packed house despite a torrential downpour that brought nearby Times Square to a standstill. Cothran thanked me and his other guests (including his boss, VH1 president Christina Norman, who sang Cothran’s praises that night) for braving the weather before taking the stage to officially welcome everyone. By year-end, the foundation’s outreach efforts—including $3 million worth of instruments donated to 31 public schools this year alone—will total nearly $30 million worth of instruments donated to date. The beneficiaries of that largesse: more than 1,000 public schools in 80 cities. After EMI Music Publishing EVP Evan Lamberg voiced his appreciation for the foundation’s ongoing work, the evening’s master of ceremonies, Matchbox Twenty front man Rob Thomas, took the stage and noted that the night’s music was "timeless," not a relic of the ’80s. "I’m proud to say I know every word to every song on [the set] list," said the singer, who joined in on the evening’s final number, a rousing version of "Sexual Healing" (so popular they played it twice). The all-acoustic performances, which ranged from the hushed melodies of Patty Smyth’s "Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough" to a raucous "She Bop" from Lauper, weren’t the ideal backdrop for a chat with Cothran, so we agreed to catch up after the event. His schedule kept him so busy that we ended up speaking after his next fundraiser: a battle of the high school marching bands held Nov. 20 at the Home Depot Center Stadium in Los Angeles. Eight national and local high school bands competed for the first prize—$10,000 worth of new instruments, uniforms and shoes—before celebrity judges including Chaka Khan and Sheila E. "Everyone could just feel the excitement and the enthusiasm not only for the performances that night, which were amazing," he recalled of the China Club evening, "but it was gratifying to hear everyone’s appreciation for the work the foundation is doing." Norman felt that Cothran’s nonprofit experience—including positions at the Big Apple Circus and the United Way of New York City/Tri-State—would help "expand and reinforce the foundation’s efforts at the grassroots level." I asked Cothran how he intends to do that. "We’ve been doing a lot of planning, both for the year ahead and laying out a three-year plan for our goals in fundraising and the grants—and impact—that we want to make," he replied. "We really want to raise the profile of the foundation, and that naturally means working closer with our cable partners." He’s come a long way in three months, admitting with a chuckle that when he walked in the door at 1515 Broadway in August, "it was a little challenging: There are a lot of acronyms in this industry, like MSO and VOD and ITV." Those Cable 101 lessons behind him, the quick learner from Philly is now busy planning the foundation’s "Big in ’05" fundraiser: the annual VH1 Divas concert, coming in April.

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