MT. VERNON — Seventh and eighth grade students at Casey Middle School were treated to a special jazz music performance Wednesday as part of this year’s African American History Month Celebration.
Vocalist Juanita Jones, accompanied by Brett Gibbs on piano, performed a selection of jazz classics for the students, covering the songs of musical pioneers like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Etta James.
In between songs, Jones also talked to the students about the history of jazz and swing music and its various forms. Jones performed for eighth graders
Wednesday morning and seventh graders that afternoon.
“It’s a music performance, but I’m also going to give them a little information about the different singers,” said Jones, a graduate of Rend Lake College. “I think a lot of people aren’t (as) exposed to jazz as we used to be, so I think it’s a great opportunity to share.”
Wednesday’s performance was just one of many events being held in honor of this year’s African American History Month Celebration.
The program is made possible through a collaboration between District 80 Schools and Cedarhurst Center for the Arts.
This year’s theme for the celebration is jazz history and how the art form is “uniquely rooted in African American culture,” said Carrie Gibbs, director of the Shrode Art Center at Cedarhurst.
Throughout the month, different art and music activities have been held at District 80 Schools to educate students about jazz and its cultural significance.
“I’m just very thankful for the collaboration that Cedarhurst provides our district in order to expose students to the arts,” said Mary McGreer, principal of Casey Middle School. “We realize kids have lots of different areas that they can excel in and one can be the arts, and this gives them encouragement and inspiration to pursue those activities.”
The culmination of this year’s program will be the public African American History Month Celebration event, set for 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at Casey.
It will feature musical and dance performances, a technology presentation, a photography display, and a recognition of essay contest winners.
For Jones, the best part of performing for young people is getting them excited about jazz, which she considers a vibrant and important musical genre.
“I think it’s really cool when I see somebody else (say), ‘oh, I like jazz now,’” Jones said. “I think that’s a rewarding part of it.”