It looked like—and sounded like—a sold out concert in the auditorium at Eagle Ridge Middle School Friday.
Students threw their hands in the air, jumped up and down and poured into the auditorium aisles to dance to classic tunes like Jackson 5’s “ABC” and Rose Royce’s “Car Wash.” But it was more than a concert. It was a lesson in American black history.
“I don’t think the kids or the teachers have ever had this much fun in school,” assistant seventh-grade teacher Allan Bentkofsky said, as he wrangled kids out of the aisles.
The event was put on by Souled Out, a band that’s covered some of the nation’s most iconic songs up and down the Mid Atlantic since 1997. The band’s saxophone and keyboard player Adrien Re is also the music teacher at Eagle Ridge Middle School. He said he was thinking of how to bring Black History Month alive for his students.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be neat to bring the band into the school and combine it with an American history lesson through the eyes of African-Americans, with the music as the soundtrack,” Re said, adding the band already covers songs from the 1950s through today.
The concert, and history lesson, Friday started in the 1950s with a rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Flipping through a prepared PowerPoint, Re highlighted some of the setbacks and the process of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling segregated schools were unconstitutional. The timeline moved to the 1960s, and Re touched on the important roles Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and even the Vietnam War played in progressing Civil Rights.
“What Americans learned is we’re all brothers, no matter their color of our skin,” Re said, leading the band into “My Girl,” by Temptations. "Meanwhile, a soundtrack of a new generation kept playing on jukeboxes and American radios.”
The lesson moved into the 1970s with songs like “Car Wash” by Rose Royce and “Brick House” by The Commodores, and then the 1980s with plenty of Michael Jackson. The five-piece band brought the young audience, still on their feet, through the 1990s, highlighting the role of Secretary of State Colin Powell on one side of society’s spectrum and band C & C Music Factory on the other. In the 2000s, the nation made a major milestone by electing its first black president, Re said, “and we can now play thousands of songs on a 4G iPod.” The set ended with a twist on a few Beyoncé songs, and a question from Re to keep the students thinking: “What will tomorrow bring?”
Seventh-grader Robert Charles Swain, who was one of the first to get out of his seat, said Friday was a good day to be at school.
“This is so much fun, and I think it’s a great way to get kids into history,” he added. “Combining the two, history and music, makes kids pay more attention.”
Principal Bridget Beichler, who was no slouch on the dance floor herself, said she was excited to see what Re had in mind when he brought the idea of a concert with an educational twist up to her a few months ago.
“It blew my expectations. I’ve never seen kids so enthusiastic over something,” she added. “I love being able to provide the kids experiences they would otherwise not have in the classroom or even outside of school. These are the lessons that stick with them.”