SARASOTA -- Louise Harrison was her brother George's biggest advocate in the U.S. even before he and the other Beatles led the British Invasion that transformed pop music in the 1960s.
Now, 11 years after George's death, his big sister is championing him once more. But this time, Louise Harrison is trying to capture the attention of classrooms rather than radio stations. And she's making her biggest mark right here in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Harrison, 82, has created Help Keep Music Alive, a nonprofit organization that pairs adoration of the Beatles with a respect for how the arts contribute to education. Working with a highly convincing Beatles tribute band based in Branson, Mo., Harrison will be helping kids learn more about performance art, visual arts, even social studies through live performances that will kick off in early October at Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Booker High School in Sarasota and North Port High School in North Port.
"I've always said, 'There's a problem to suit every taste, so pick the problem that suits your taste and be part of the solution,'" said Harrison, who lives in Sarasota. "We want to help make sure that stu
dents in schools all across the country have music and arts programs that are still going."
"Liverpool Legends" is the Beatles tribute band Harrison is partnering with to bolster arts education in schools. The group consists of five of the most convincing impersonators Harrison could find of Paul, John, George and Ringo. She found them by keeping an eye on the scores of Beatles tributes band that exist worldwide.
Harrison says the band members regularly practice mimicking not only the vocal styles but the physical mannerisms of the Fab Four in order to be as realistic as possible.
Liverpool Legends is so successful in their recreation of the Beatles that the band was chosen to perform music on a Grammy-nominated album showcasing Beatles recollections. Louise Harrison narrated the album, which lost in the "spoken word" category last year to Betty White.
With her new nonprofit organization, Harrison connects Liverpool Legends to schools, where the band's performances help to raise money for arts education. During the second half of each show, Harrison says, student performers join in and sometimes their artwork is showcased simultaneously on a big screen.
She believes her work with Liverpool Legends and Help Keep Music Alive can help improve the academic performance of America's students. "Numerous studies show that when the creative part of the brain is stimulated, you're more able to grasp the concepts behind math and science," Harrison said.
"And besides, everybody that comes to the show gets to be 16 for a few hours. What we're doing is multi-generational and reaches everyone regardless of race, color and creed."
Harrison's work has earned her the distinction of being the first-ever fellow for a program at the University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee called PAInT (Partnership for Arts Integrated Teaching). Spearheaded by Terri Osborn, the campus's dean of education, PAInT is devoted to building arts into every aspect of education.
Osborn turns to the teaching of punctuation as an example of how the arts can enhance the teaching of any subject, describing first the routine style of teaching punctuation through review, chalkboards and repetitive exercises.
"But turn the teaching of punctuation into a play and have one of your kids play the exclamation point," Osborn says. "That act of inspiration begins to help students be more motivated. It's not enough to just talk about arts integration, you have to have students do arts integration."
Osborn said the Beatles are an ideal conduit for the PAInT effort because of their far-reaching influence in society.
"What she's doing is remarkable, because she's taking something as powerful and reachable as the Beatles and bringing it directly to curriculum in schools," she said. "The Beatles are much more than simply a connection to music. They have a connection to social studies curriculum, they can be part of English and language arts education and they can be part of math because music is largely mathematical."
Harrison looks forward to expanding her nonprofit group's efforts nationwide and says the program is open to any school that has the ability to host an event that will attract at least 500 people. She says her devotion to Help Keep Music Alive is as intense as the drive she had back in the 1960s convincing American radio stations to play the music of her brother's band.
"I so totally believe in this," said Harrison. "I'm behind this 100 percent."
Help Keep Music Alive is actively seeking sponsors to help with costs such as hotels and transportation. The group also encourages contact from any school seeking to bolster funding for its own arts and music programs through a collaboration with Liverpool Legends.
To contact Harrison and Help Keep Music Alive, go to http://lh-hkma.org.
Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Or follow her on Twitter @chawesreports.