From February 15 through March 12, 2021, Jazzlinks brought the history of the Harlem Renaissance to life in high school classrooms throughout Sarasota and Manatee Counties. The presentations were virtual this year due to the coronavirus, with videos of musical performances by WBTT artists and interactive discussions with the cast members and students about the historical and cultural contributions of African Americans.

Grants are available to classroom teachers who want to have the lively Jazzlinks program come to their school. Click here to learn more at EdExploreSRQ, where learning comes to life!


Jazzlinks jazz dance number

History dances off the page when Jazzlinks comes to an 11th grade classroom in Sarasota or Manatee counties.

What is Jazzlinks?
Jazzlinks is an integrated arts experience illustrating the role of African Americans in U.S. history through music and theatre. Actors visit classrooms, become the iconic figures in African-American history and jazz and share their stories, including instances of discrimination they encountered in spite of their fame. They also respond (in character) to questions from students. A culminating performance brings the full ensemble back to each school, featuring a vibrant show of music, dance, and poetry.

This program was developed through a collaboration of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, The Jazz Club of Sarasota, and the Sarasota County School District & EdExploreSRQ. Jazzlinks is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture. 

WBTT Jazz Club of Sarasota Sarasota County Schools EdExploreSRQ 25 Gulf Coast Community Foundation DCA/Culture Builds Florida DCA/Culture Builds Florida  

Will it meet state standards?
Two Sarasota County Schools curriculum specialists prepared the content – which meets Florida State standards – for 11th grade students, focusing on "document based questions," an approach that requires students to use their own knowledge and several historical sources to develop an essay or series of short-answer questions.

What are the historical events covered?
The curriculum connects three historical events with the following musical and dramatic illustrations:

  • the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill with a performance of "Strange Fruit,” the emotional song made famous by Billie Holiday
  • the Harlem Renaissance with "Take the A Train," which was immortalized by The Duke Ellington Orchestra, and
  • the trial of the Scottsboro Boys with the spiritual, "Oh Freedom"

What are the benefits of Jazzlinks?
The benefits of integrated arts experiences have been well-proven: higher achievement occurs because students become more engaged in their learning and retain the content longer. In addition, Jazzlinks brings arts instruction and a performance to some students who haven’t participated in the arts since sixth grade. Students also gain unique insight into the African-American experience, which isn’t typically covered in the traditional curriculum.

Are there corresponding classroom materials?
Teaching materials, prepared by curriculum specialists, are available to help illuminate the struggles and triumphs of African Americans.

For more information about the curriculum materials or to arrange for Jazzlinks to appear in your school, contact Travis Ray at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 941-404-7801.


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Photos by Sorcha Augustine