Money will support school construction in Ethiopia.

Before Irma Lyons lost her long battle with cancer in 2009, she poured her heart into her job as principal of Will Rogers Learning Community.

She wanted desperately for each child to succeed, and she maintained her connections with students and families even as she moved from the classroom into the administrative ranks.

“Irma was a visionary,” said Liane Curtis, whose daughter, Jaq Mackenzie, attended the Santa Monica elementary school. “She was all about leaving no child behind. … She really thought outside the box.”

Lyons will be posthumously honored at a benefit concert Sept. 11 at Genghis Cohen in Los Angeles, where Mackenzie and other musicians will raise money to support education in Ethiopia.

The event came together with the leadership of Mary Anna Noveck, who served as an assistant principal under Lyons. Noveck now holds an executive role with Imagine1Day, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve student outcomes in the eastern African country.

Noveck is also a godmother to Lyons’ daughter, Taína, and the two are working through Imagine1Day to build a primary school in Filangur in honor of Lyons.

When Mackenzie heard about the plans to celebrate her former principal, she felt compelled to participate. And while the 17-year-old indie pop singer-songwriter didn’t have much extra cash to donate, she felt she could contribute her performing talent to what she believes is a noble cause.

“I wanted to raise awareness for the value of education, not just in my community, but globally,” said Mackenzie, a former “American Idol” contestant. “I believe that every child needs an education. And if I can communicate via my music to bring that message out, I’m down seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I want to spread the love.”

Mackenzie, who left the Santa Monica-Malibu school district for an independent study track as she pursues a career in music, plays guitar and piano and also writes and produces her own songs. She has released a few EPs this year.

She and Taína, who met at Will Rogers years ago, collaborated on a video to support the initiative, with the former providing the music and the latter adding choreography.

The evening at Genghis Cohen will feature Mackenzie as well as Drew Chadwick and The Tearaways.

Chadwick, 23, a member of pop group Emblem3 who now lives in Los Angeles, is focusing on his solo career as a singer-songwriter. The Tearaways, meanwhile, blend the styles of British pop and California surf music.

For Curtis, bringing the concert to fruition was a powerful way to remember Lyons and her impact on others.

“We hope that we can help make a difference and show people that there are many ways of giving,” she said. “Tithing one’s time and talent is a great way of raising money. We loved Irma and we love Mary Anna and Taína. Jaq and I feel nothing less than privileged and honored to be able to help.”

General admission costs $20 online or $25 at the door. To purchase tickets, visit For more information about the nonprofit, visit