Alaska Surprises HBCU Students

“Come fly with me,” the great Frank Sinatra once sang – and a lucky group of students from Texas did, indeed, get to fly away recently! The skies are alive with the sound of jazz as Alaska surprises HBCU students with a trip to the Monterey Jazz Festival, the longest-running jazz festival in the world.

Wide shot : Alaska surprises HBCU students with Martin Luther King designed plane.
Welcome aboard: the choir from Texas Southern University were flown out to attend and perform at the jazz festival this weekend | © Ingrid Barrentine

Texas Southern Choir to Perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival

Alaska Airlines set out to fly a choir from Texas Southern University (all expenses paid, if you were wondering) to California, where across a 20-acre showground, artists and fans alike gather in Monterey to celebrate jazz music. The choir took to the skies as a collective and for some, this was their first time on a plane, explains bass player Braylon Walker.

“For a lot of us, this is the first time going to a big jazz festival. Some people have never been on a plane or could never have afforded it. I’m one of those people. I’m super grateful.” – Braylon Walker

Texas Southern University is just one of 107 recognised Historically Black Colleges or Universities – or, HBCU’s. These institutions have had a massive impact on American history, particularly in the education of African-Americans. The colleges and universities that fall under this title are not exclusive, as they allow people from all ethnic backgrounds to attend.

Three people smile at camera from their seats on the plane.
The students will be able to enjoy their time in California before their scheduled performance this weekend | © Ingrid Barrentine

Up, Up and Away: The Choir Who Sang Their Way to the Skies

David Tucker, Alaska Airlines’ Managing Director of Public Affairs in California, reflected on the impact this would have on the students who are able to celebrate the festival’s 65th year of Jazz this year:

“When we learned how much it would cost to fly students to the Monterey Jazz Festival, there was no doubt in our minds that we wanted to ensure there were no barriers to attending one of the best music festivals on the West Coast… We want this experience to be the beginning of many firsts, with stories that will be shared for years to come.”

True to their word, the plane that Alaska Airlines used to fly the Texas Southern choir is the airline’s ‘Our Commitment’ plane – an aircraft the airline designed alongside UNCF in 2021 to show its commitment to incorporating ‘education and advancing racial equity’ to the passenger experience.

Hands holding open booklet.
Alaska have been supporting HBCUs for years and are committed to continuing their partnerships | © Ingrid Barrentine

The Monterey Jazz Festival is scheduled to take place from the 23rd-25th September, with some headliners including Artemis, Kris Bowers and Ranky Tanky. Joining the line-up will be the Texas Southern students, and below, you can watch a preview they gave passengers on their flight!

 Have you ever been to a jazz festival? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below!

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Kirsty Atek
Kirsty Atek
Kirsty Atek is a visual artist based in London who is interested in sustainability.


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