José Antonio Abreu

Founder of El Sistema

A Venezuelan Musician

José Antonio Abreu was born on March 7, 1939. He is an orchestra conductor, economist, pianist, politician, and educator. He is most known for his foundation of El Sistema, a publicly financed voluntary sector music education program. The program has close to 250,000 young musicians being taught there.

Abreu was born the eldest of six children on May 7, 1939 in the Andean city of Valera, Venezuela. A pianist from a young age, Abreu studied piano, organ, harpsichord, and composition at the Caracas Musical Declamation Academy in 1957. In 1975, motivated by his deep Catholic faith and a firm conviction that art could transform lives, Abreu founded the group that would become El Sistema.

El Sistema

The program began with a measly 11 students in a parking garage along with Abreu. Its original name was Fundación del Estado para el Sistema Nacional de las Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela, which translates to "National Network of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela." Abreu' mission was summed up when he said, "Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development, in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values - solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community, and to express sublime feelings"


Abreu has proven to be one of the most respected leaders in the music and poverty world. Ranked 30th by Fortune 500's "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders", Abreu is musically talented and highly respected. Obviously, leaders do not need to have all leadership qualities. Abreu is loyal to his cause, responsible, and an honest man. He and I share many qualities, one of which is musicality. Abreu's caring and compassion inspired him to found El Sistema.