Ahmir Thompson isn't into the "public charity" thing - big names writing big checks under bright lights seems fake, he said, and self-congratulatory.

But when the artist better known as Questlove, a leader of the superstar group The Roots, heard about the plight of Philadelphia's High School for Creative and Performing Arts, he had to act.

His alma mater has lost nearly $1 million in funding over the past two years, and 19 staffers since 2011. The city's premier arts school's all-important spring musical was canceled by budget cuts in 2013, and threatened again this year.

Enter The CAPA Foundation, launched Tuesday with song and dance and speeches by Thompson and fellow CAPA product and Roots member Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter.

The Roots have given $40,000 to launch the nonprofit that's designed to restore CAPA's cuts and to allow the school to dream a little - upgraded technology, better performance space, more opportunities for students.

"Even though we'd love to save each and every school, we felt we wanted to at least do our best to help the place that helped build this institution called The Roots," said Thompson. "Hopefully, others will do the same for their schools as well."

The whole thing started when CAPA's musical was threatened and people started calling out Thompson, a heavy hitter on social-media with over 3 million Twitter followers. Why wasn't the big-name alum coming to the rescue?

The reality of the budget cuts shocked Thompson. He was a little daunted by the idea of saving a school where, as students matter-of-factly described in a video made for the foundation launch, you can't ask teachers for paper, because they don't have any, and virtually every extracurricular activity has been axed.

But Thompson is a big-picture guy, and he wanted to do more than save the spring show.

"We could have easily just put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound and said, 'OK, see you later,'" Thompson said. "But we wanted to bring this to the forefront."

The Roots, their management team, and CAPA officials spent more than a year working out the details of the partnership.

The foundation aims to raise $500,000 annually. But more than that, it is a promise from The Roots to stick around - with master classes, opportunities for students to learn about the business of show business, opportunities for them to perform on bigger stages.

Plus, Thompson said, "we have a lot of friends that are able to and need to help."

Trotter and Thompson were a bit awed to return to the school, which during their time was located in the 11th and Catharine building that is now home to the Academy at Palumbo. CAPA has since moved to a grand building on South Broad Street.

"I was amazed that you guys had electricity," Questlove joked. "We didn't have that at Palumbo."

In the '80s, "we were just two musicians, a drummer and an MC," said Trotter. "One of the things that helped us make our way was the training we received here at CAPA, and the encouragement. We don't know what we would have done without it."

The CAPA students who acted, danced, and sang to celebrate The Roots' gift delighted Thompson, he said. After the performances, he sought out the young woman who placed the microphone stands for her classmates: "That would have been me!" he said.

Questlove imagined where he might have fit in.

"We would have been in the back," Thompson said, "cracking jokes."

The atmosphere at the school on Tuesday was electric: wide-eyed students posing for selfies with the patient Roots members, adults buzzing. Principal Joanne Beaver teared up at the gift her school had been given.

"In the wake of the School District of Philadelphia's budget cuts, CAPA's viability and vitality has been threatened," said Terrilyn McCormick, president of the CAPA Home and School Association. But The Roots are sounding a different note.

"Hope begins here, today," McCormick said.

215-854-5146 @newskag

For more about the foundation: capa-foundation.org