If you ever have the pleasure of meeting 82-year-old Sarasotan Louise Harrison, she’ll probably give you a warm embrace, or, as she calls it, the “Harrison hug.”
It’s a compassion her parents taught her and her three brothers, one brother whose name you might recognize — late The Beatles guitarist George Harrison.
“I think part of the mystique of The Beatles is that they were so real and down to earth, so loving and compassionate,” she says.
Mid-2011, Harrison started a nonprofit organization, Help Keep Music Alive, to continually share this message, along with the importance of music, to younger generations.
Help Keep Music Alive brings Harrison’s The Beatles tribute band, Liverpool Legends, to schools around the country where they perform a professional-level production with the students. The tickets, sold for the show, help fund each school’s music education program.
Recently, Help Keep Music Alive partnered with the University of South Florida to promote USF’s “Partnership for Arts-Integrated Teaching,” a program that shares a similar goal. Oct. 3 they performed at Manatee High School and will perform again Oct. 4, at North Port High School, followed by Booker High School Oct. 6.
“It’s very important to keep music in the curriculum; it’s why we wanted to be a part of this — it’s not just a frivolous fringe thing,” Harrison says.
According to Harrison, the scientific studies backup her thoughts: When the brain is stimulated with music, it makes it easier to learn math and science.
When Harrison founded the Grammy-nominated Liverpool Legends in 2005, the Branson, Mo.,-based group would occasionally open its shows with student performances of The Beatles’ songs.
“We’d be like, ‘Why aren’t they just playing with us?’” says Marty Scott, aka George Harrison in the Liverpool Legends and a good friend of Harrison’s.
This idea, in conjunction with music-education funding cuts, prompted the band to set out on the road in yellow-submarine shaped Volkswagens, one of which sits outside of Harrison’s Sarasota home, where Scott is visiting.
The duo appears to be the real deal as far as family goes; Harrison calls Scott “my new kid brother.” And he’s even got the mop-head hair.
“Well, he’s not so new anymore,” she jokes. “He’s getting a little worn around the edges.”
Scott and Harrison met in 2005 at a Beatles convention in Chicago at which Harrison was speaking.
Scott’s Beatles tribute band was performing at the conference.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, his sister is here, I hope I don’t stink!’” Scott says.
Little did he realize that they’d hit it off and hang out the whole weekend.
“We’ve kind of been together ever since,” Scott says. Harrison even introduced him to Paul McCartney the following week. (McCartney still sends her a birthday card every year.)
“(We tried to put something together) that George wouldn’t hurl a thunderbolt at me for doing, and here we are eight years later,” Harrison says.
“It’s great,” Harrison says of seeing her brother’s legacy played out, but she undersells her enthusiasm. Scott describes her another way: “Let’s face it, Louise lights up like a Christmas tree.”
But the impact the program has on students is more important to Harrison.
After a performance, one student told Scott that it was the best day of his life and that he’d tell his grandchildren about it.
Harrison tells the story of a girl whose mother had died recently in a car accident. The daughter was in the performance, and her father and siblings came to see the production.
“They said, ‘That was the best thing that happened to us as a family,’” Harrison says. The mother had constantly sung Beatles songs around the house. The daughter said to Harrison, “As long as I keep The Beatles’ music going, I’ll never be away from my mother.”
Harrison doesn’t think the program would work with another band’s music because of The Beatles’ unique message: love, peace, compassion, giving back to the planet and giving back to each other.
“There’s no more universal thing than The Beatles; they are the only group that did that. That’s what makes the whole thing work,” Harrison says.
With Harrison leading the charge, it’s clear George Harrison’s legacy is alive and well.
“It’s not only a privilege but a great responsibility that I keep that whole idea going,” Harrison says.
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