Grammy® & Emmy® Award-winner Harry Connick Jr. & Booker High School VPA Students Take Part in Unscripted Master Class


SARASOTA, Monday, January 31, 2022 – Made possible through the Van Wezel Foundation (Foundation), and its generous donors, Grammy® and Emmy® Award-winner Harry Connick Jr, along with Booker High School visual and performing arts (VPA) students, shared their passion for the arts as part of an unscripted master class and open dialogue session at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

“I was blessed to have musical and performing mentors in my life when I was growing up,” said Harry Connick Jr. “Because of this, I’m well aware of the value of arts education – the driving force behind the Foundation’s work, which I was honored to play a part in.”

During the master class, Harry Connick Jr. led VPA students through songs on the piano, shared his path to success in the industry and then opened to a free-flowing dialogue with students.

“Harry Connick Jr. graciously shared his time and inspiring passion for the arts today, and I know this will be a moment cherished by these students as they advance in their various artforms,” said Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson.

The students in the master class also had the opportunity to attend a live performance by Harry Connick Jr. when he headlined the Foundation’s 20th annual Inspiration Gala. Tickets to attend the live performance were also underwritten by the Van Wezel Foundation.

“On behalf of Booker High School, we are immeasurably grateful for those whose support of the Van Wezel Foundation made the master class possible and to Harry Connick Jr., who created an unforgettable experience for our students,” said Booker High School Principal Dr. Rachel Shelley.


The Van Wezel Foundation’s mission is to create and sustain a vibrant performing arts center, advance education, and enrich communities by inspiring minds through the power of the arts. The Foundation has partnered with the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall since 1987 to support arts education throughout our region, serving more than 50,000 students and their families annually with enriching arts-based education opportunities and professional development for more than 400 teachers across five counties. The Van Wezel Foundation is leading the vision to build a new Sarasota Performing Arts Center as a public-private partnership with the city, and in collaboration with the Bay Park Conservancy and Van Wezel Hall. To learn more about the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center and get involved, visit For more information on the Foundation and its mission, visit, or join us on Facebook and Instagram.


A true pioneer in the cultural development of Sarasota, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall presents spectacular Broadway musicals, top national and international performers, popular comedians, and a compelling mix of classical and dance productions. Owned and operated by the City of Sarasota, the Van Wezel celebrated its 50th Anniversary during the 2019-2020 season. The theater’s Education and Community Engagement Department serves over 50,000 students, teachers, and family members each year, teaching them in, through and about the arts. In conjunction with the Van Wezel Foundation, the Van Wezel’s Education and Community Engagement Department has launched numerous virtual initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including virtual Schooltime Performances, Zoom-based workshops with teaching artists, and Artworks Anywhere, a series of free arts education videos available on-demand to students, families, and educators. To learn more, visit


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