ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Third-graders from Melrose Elementary were treated to a performance today by Grammy Award-winning singer Al Jarreau, but instead of singing, he read a story to them. Jarreau is visiting the Tampa Bay area in his role as Verizon's national Literacy Champion.
With the Caribbean steel drummers of "Jammin' Steelers" providing a lively musical backdrop, Jarreau read "Charlie Parker Played Be Bop" to the third-graders on stage during an assembly at nearby John Hopkins Middle School. Students from John Hopkins also listened in.
During the assembly, a $10,000 grant was presented to Johns Hopkins by Tampa Bay Reads to provide the school's media center with computers and reading software designed to improve student literacy levels.
Currently, 46 percent of John Hopkins' students read only at Level One proficiency on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. State standards require that students should read at Level Three before they can graduate from high school.
"I have been supporting the fight for better literacy skills since the 1960s, when I was in college," said Jarreau. "Children who have a special interest, like music, can use reading to learn about a great musician like Charlie Parker. Developing a love for something makes reading about it second nature."
Through the Verizon Literacy Champion program, Verizon partners with celebrities like Jarreau who donate their image and time to help bring attention to the critical problem of low literacy in the U.S. and to raise funds for the issue. The Verizon Literacy Champion program builds awareness through media campaigns that include posters, newspaper ads, bill inserts and community events.
The program is part of Verizon Reads, the company's signature philanthropy effort. Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon, and a variety of "Reads" organizations, including Tampa Bay Reads, support nearly 1,000 literacy programs in 31 states and the District of Columbia through partnerships with literacy providers.
Jarreau and his record label, Verve Music Group, are contributing a percentage of the proceeds from his current release, All I Got, to help fund literacy programs through Verizon Reads.
"Al Jarreau's great vocal talent gives him a wonderful opportunity to promote the cause of literacy," said John Blanchard, president-Southeast region, public policy and external affairs, Verizon. "His participation as our national Literacy Champion will help more people in America recognize reading as the fundamental building block to education."
The Jammin' Steelers is made up of students from John Hopkins' music magnet program. The young musicians play at both school and community functions in the area.
Jarreau will perform in a free concert Nov. 2 in Clearwater's Coachman Park as part of the Verizon Music Festival. A book drive will be conducted at the concert, with Verizon Reads and Tampa Bay Reads building a "tower of books" with the donations made by the audience.
Last year, Verizon Foundation contributed nearly $20 million to literacy programs nationwide. Verizon also spearheaded the creation of the Verizon Literacy Network, an online collaborative effort of local and national literacy organizations. Members of the network have created America's Literacy Directory, a comprehensive Web-based database of thousands of literacy organizations that people can contact to give or get help with literacy efforts.
Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 135.0 million access line equivalents and 31.5 million Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon is also the largest directory publisher in the world. With more than $67 billion in annual revenues and more than 236,000 employees, Verizon's global presence extends to more than 35 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.