By Suzanne Schmidt
ZEPHYRHILLS — The lights are dim and the rhythmic drums by Babatunde Olatunji reverberate through the room as people file into the Zephryhills High School activity center. Then suddenly the curtains open to the school’s jazz band playing “In the Stone” so well you might think it is actually Earth, Wind and Fire on stage.
Derrick Tucker, assistant principal at the school, will then step out to let people know what the performance is about. The title of the program is Celebrate Black History Through the Exploration of Music.
“The program will be about harmony and working together,” Tucker said. “It will be teaching people to treat others with decency and kindness regardless of race, creed or color. If you treat people right, it will be all right.”
For the last 10-15 years, Tucker has coordinated a black history month performance at the various schools he has worked for. He said it is important to teach students because there is still distrust and racism in the world.
“We will be educating the audience,” Tucker said. “They will learn about culture through the exploration of music and have some food for thought when they leave. I will interpret the extent of how this program is valued by how many attend.”
This year’s assembly will be different from any he has done before.
“In the past I have done talent shows,” Tucker said. “It didn’t matter what color they were, they could just get up to sing, dance and perform. It was a very arduous task. This year I will have my two conservatory-trained musician adult sons performing with me.”
The school’s jazz band and choir will perform along with The Modern ZHS Sextet featuring Juan Ortega on bass, Michael Schmidt on percussion, Miles Tucker on saxophone, Derrick Tucker on keyboard and vocals, Wayne Tucker on trumpet, keyboard and vocals and Marcos Robles on guitar. Music will be the key focus of the program with songs like “I Stood on the Banks” by the Rev. James Cleveland, “In the Stone” by Earth, Wind & Fire, “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix and “So What” by Miles Davis.
“It will be worth the journey to come to this show because I know my kids,” Tucker said. “We will have some smooth jazz, some bebop jazz, some fun reggae, gospel and more.”
The lyrics from “Lift Every Voice,” the African-American national anthem, will be read over music.
“Last year we had two women singing, but this year we will have our student, Passion Dixon, recite the lyrics,” Tucker said. “I want people to be able to understand the words and reflect on them.”
Throughout the program, students will be giving speeches about various topics including giving a history of jazz, funk, reggae, and R&B. Jonathan Funnell, senior, will be teaching the audience a little about jazz.
“I am going to talk about the lives of some of the greatest people in black history,” Funnell said. “I will talk about how jazz was formed and how it is played. My favorite jazz musician is Joshua Redman. I am going to talk about him and his role in jazz music.”
Terrance Stewart, junior, will be introducing songs at the performance.
“I want to get the audience interested in what we are doing,” Stewart said. “I hope people will learn. Everyone knows who Rosa Parks is and Martin Luther King, but they don’t know most music today is a form of African American music that has evolved to what it is now.”
The school will have a performance during the day just for the students and one in the evening open to the community. Tucker said this year the day performance will be different because everyone in the school will attend it.
“During school assemblies, students normally can opt out and sit in the cafeteria,” Tucker said. “I want the children to have a comprehensive school experience.”
The performance falls under the umbrella of character education at the school.
“Character education allows each school to devise its own manner towards establishing awareness,” Tucker said. “The characteristics we are teaching students are caring, respect, citizenship, trustworthiness, responsibility and fairness. We have hands-on learning activities that are based more on expression as compared to pure lesson based learning.”
The show will be 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Zephyrhills High School activity center, 6335 12th Street. It is free to the public, but a love donation will be accepted.
Joshua Eskelund, senior, will be running the technical side of the show.
“It is going to be an amazing show,” Eskelund said. “We have so much talent. We are just going to have fun with it and see where it goes.”