Hidden History: Unity through jazz

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Music has always played a major role in African American culture. 

At a time when the country was divided, jazz brought people together here in the Midstate. 

“It is a music that demonstrates the democratic process better than anything we have ever seen, most certainly more than Congress,” said Dred “Perky” Scott, a local jazz musician. 

Jazz is more than just music for Scott. 

“Everybody, everybody, Janel, has a soundtrack. Mine is just music and jazz.”

Jazz was very popular in the Harrisburg area starting in the 1950s and during the Civil Rights Movement. Artists used their music to send a message about the injustice happening across the country. 

Ron Waters is a jazz musician from Harrisburg who experienced racism firsthand. 

“You see, a lot of people didn’t want to be in the company of black people, so if the owner felt like it was jeopardizing his business, he wouldn’t hire you,” Waters said. 

However, musicians pushed for change. 

“Many of the artists that performed refused to perform to segregated audiences and pushed the envelope to integration which was occurring already,” Scott said. 

Decades later, Scott still performs at age 71. Waters does too, serving as the youth band director for Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz at 84. 

The jazz scene isn’t as popular now but can still survive. 

“It takes organizations that promote jazz on a yearly or monthly basis to come out, and then you have to have an audience and that audience has to grow to say alive,” Waters said. 

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