Jazz plays notable role in history


At Sherwood Forest Elementary, students take their history with a shot of jazz.

In honor of Black History Month this February, music teacher Rick Reynolds created a music curriculum that focuses on jazz and how it relates to black history. Students in all grade levels learned jazz hits and sang them at a school-wide assembly on Thursday. Students also gave speeches on the origins of jazz and great jazz leaders.

“Jazz is a really good way to introduce black history to them,” Reynolds said.

As part of their study of ragtime, Dixieland, swing and bebop, students learned about the history of slavery, the Civil War and the struggle of African Americans for freedom.

“You really wouldn’t have jazz if you didn’t have the black slaves come over from Africa,” Reynolds said. “The majority of jazz greats were black men and women.”

Jazz originated in the early 1800s when African tribal music was mixed with European American music.

Students at Sherwood Forest learned the song “Wade in the Water,” as well as some of the history associated with it.

“This spiritual song was sung as a warning to escaping slaves,” fourth-grader Alexis Bryght told the crowd. “The song told them to abandon the path and move into the water to throw chasing dogs and their masters off their trail.”

Reynolds also taught the students about the tension between races. During the ragtime era, very skilled African American jazz musicians were unable to get work.

“Even though they’d been emancipated, they weren’t free,” Reynolds said.

Through their study of jazz, students also learned a bit about the Civil War, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Great Depression.

“I thought it was very appropriate to do it during Black History Month,” Reynolds said of the jazz curriculum. “A lot of our history comes from the black community... We would not be the country we are without the influence from Africa.”

Sherwood Forest principal Barbara Bergman said black history is an important piece of a well-rounded education.

“We really want to make it a focal point for all of our students,” she said. “We just need to show our kids how diversity makes our country great.”

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565.

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