CLEVELAND – John Panza, originally from Cleveland, has malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that develops in the chest cavity around the lungs. He almost died in 2012.
“I was exposed to asbestos and some 30 years later I developed tumors on the outside of my right lung,” said Panza, president of the Panza Foundation. “And so they had to take my lung. And they took part of my diaphragm, they took the pericardium out of my heart, but they also gave me chemo and radiation. So in 2012 I fought that and then in 2013 I ended up with an infection in the space in my chest. It almost killed me.
From this near-death experience was born a change of perspective on life.
“There is no cure for this cancer and it will kill me one day. there is no doubt. But the point is, if I get over this thing, I’ll have years, I’ll have a few years. So what do I want to do? And the answer was music, ”said Panza.
Panza is a professor of literature by day and is part of three groups by night: the doomgaze genre group Hiram-Maxim, the electronic genre group Weapons and armor and the indie, american and rock group Mother Sponge.
“My wife always calls teaching my hobby and she calls music my job,” said Panza. “I probably play about four, five, maybe six instruments in total.”
Music and family keep him going. He wants to leave an impact on the industry and leave a legacy for his wife and daughter.
“That’s when I really leaned in and said, ‘OK, let’s do it. Let us make this foundation come true ”. And the best way to really do it, in some ways, was to give people money. “
He created the Panza Foundation in 2014, a non-profit organization which annually sponsors four independent musicians or groups.
“We like it weird. We like it very much. We don’t like it being polite, ”said Panza. “We’re looking for raw, unvarnished, loud, funny, sometimes terrifying music. We believe our job is to support groups that are not necessarily mainstream. These are the groups of the future. These are bands doing things that can be a bit non-traditional, in some cases just loud. So our attitude is really that we just want to help the groups that cannot normally get support through traditional grants through traditional arts funding.
The foundation focuses on groups in northeastern Ohio.
“We don’t have an application process,” Panza said. “We literally go out, we track these groups down for a year, and we find them, and then we just call them. And, we say, hey, we’re interested in sponsoring you.
The foundation sponsors groups like Mourning [A] BLKstar, an eight-person group formed in Cleveland and gender non-conforming.
“(We do) all the black music. Gospel, punk rock, rock, hip hop, R&B, soul, jazz, etc. We do it all,” said RA Washington, who plays samplers and bass for the band.
Mourning [A] BLKstar was formed at the end of 2015 and in the six years that they have been together they have already found success.
They have performed in many music festivals and concert halls across the country.
However, when Panza approached them in 2017, they were planning their first tour for their debut album.
“Without this support we would not have been able to go on tour,” Washington said.
Some groups supported by the foundation eventually collapse and some stay together, but the point is to give them a chance.
“Without people like John Panza and his wife and the foundation, a lot of Cleveland music would have died by now,” Washington said.
“We can’t explain why they were so successful,” Panza said. “They would have done well without us. I just think what we did was give them some confidence.
The Panza Foundation has financially supported around 25 groups so far, and Panza hopes the show will last forever.
“In the future, I may not be here anymore,” said Panza. “But the legacy that I hope I helped build, and that my wife helped build, my friends helped build, will still live on. I think that would be pretty cool.
You can find out more about the Panza Foundation here.