For Once in My Life

Music Director Javier Peña leads the Spirit of Goodwill band, a group made up of severely disabled workers at the Goodwill Industries center in Miami. But this is no shtick; this is a real band that performs at a professional level. Their inspirational story is captured in For Once in My Life, The Spirit of Goodwill Band, a documentary film by Jim Bigham.

Peña, ever upbeat and energetic, encourages and cajoles the group (“Give me your best…I need 150 percent!”), pushing them to reach ever-higher levels of quality — which they do. Sam, the group’s drummer, suffered developmental stunting when his mother tried to hide her pregnancy. (“He’s a miracle,” she says now.)

There’s also Terry, the group’s lead singer, who channels Louis Armstrong onstage — he never recovered from childhood abuse that included being dropped by his father at only 14 months old. (“Once you have a disability, regardless of what it is, people just tell you, ‘You’re not going to amount to nothing,’” he says evenly.)

The film, which took home the Audience Award Winner at SXSW last year, shows the group moving from rehearsal to performance, with the experience transforming their lives. If you can’t catch today’s showing, look for For Once in My Life on the PBS series Independent Lens in February. The film screens today at 7 p.m. today. Rice University, 6100 Main. For information, call 713-348-4882 or visit Free.
Wed., Jan. 19, 7 p.m., 2011

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Olivia Flores Alvarez