The Canada South Blue Society (CSBS) introduced local teachers to the Blues In The Schools program with a workshop featuring legendary Detroit bluesman Reverend Robert B. Jones, Sr. Teachers from across the Greater Essex County District School Board gathered at Tecumseh Vista Academy during their Professional Development Day this past Friday (Nov. 16).
CSBS President, Michael McCann, explains, “we did one (blues workshop) about three years ago at Catholic Central with Christian Vegh, his mother Sherrilyn Vegh was the principal there at the time, for a three week program. It worked out pretty good and at the end, grade nine students did a little show, it was about 4 or 5 songs, for the school. It wasn’t as in depth as the one we’re doing here, this is the official Blues In The Schools program.”
CSBS will collaborate with teachers and the school board to bring blues performers into the classrooms in front of students and teachers. Their choice to bring in Rev. Robert Jones, Sr, for their inaugural workshop was a huge success.
Rev. Robert Jones, Sr. was honoured by the Kresge Arts Foundation with one of their prestigious 2018 artist fellowships awards. Over the past 10 years just over 100 artist from many disciplines including film, dance, music, storytelling and theater have received this award.
Jones is not only an award winning performer, but an inspirational storyteller and musician celebrating the history, humor and power of American Roots music. His deep love for traditional African American and American traditional music is shared in live performances that interweave timeless stories with original and traditional songs.
For more than thirty years Robert has entertained and educated audiences of all ages in schools, colleges, libraries, union halls, prisons, churches and civil rights organizations. At the heart of his message is the belief that our cultural diversity tells a story that should celebrate, not just tolerate.
Jones explained that two turning points in his life shaped his decision to pursue music and teaching. The first turning point was when as a child his grandmother brought home a record that caught his attention. During the workshop he said, “that record changed my life because it made it something interesting.”
“For me with no brothers, no sisters, nobody to sing doo-wop with, for me music was the outlet, music was that thing that gave my life order, and I plan to do it until I’m done doing anything.”
The second turning point in Jones’ life came when he met iconic blues musician, vocalist, songwriter, arranger and record producer, Willie Dixon. Jones interviewed Dixon on a radio show he hosted. “He had written this book called, I Am The Blues, and he said I’m almost out of these books but I’m going to send you a copy,” explained Jones. “Sure enough a couple days later I get a copy autographed by Willie Dixon, and again like that record changed my life, that meeting with Willie Dixon changed my life.”
After the workshop Jones told Eyes On Windsor, “Willie Dixon, was the bass player, arranger, and writer, for Chess Records in Chicago. In his heyday he wrote for people like Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf, but in his later years he put something together called The Blues Heaven Foundation and he came up with Blues In The Schools. The idea is he would go around and talk to kids about the importance of blues. He’d say things like blues are the true facts of life which is just set to words and music. And if a man sings a song to God in Heaven he sings it spiritual, but when you sing to earth and man you sing the blues. He was one of those pioneers who went in the classroom and talked about this music and demonstrated it. He came through to Detroit one time, we used to have a radio show, he was a guest on that show. Just hearing him talk about it caused me to say, you know this stuff is really too important just to play for drunks, it’s so much more fun to play for kids. I started to put together a school program then. I’ve been doing school programs for a better part of thirty years and it’s really rewarding.”
Getting children interested in music is a great way to keep them out of trouble. This was highlighted at the end of the workshop when Jones spoke of one of the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz, trumpeter Miles Davis. “If you have Miles Davis with the trumpet, you’ve got a genius, without the trumpet, he’s somebody breaking in your car.”
While getting children interested in music and keeping them out of trouble is a bonus, putting Blues In The Schools actually ties into educational subject matters and makes them interesting too.
“Sometimes we think of social studies, technology, English, or mathematics, as the meat, but nobody wants it without the condiment, the art (music) is always the condiment,” Jones said during the workshop. “It may not be the french fries but it’s the gravy on the french fries that makes it poutine!”
As a child, Jones hated math class. He explained, putting Blues In The Schools can make math interesting. Jones asked the teachers, “when I write a song, what am I doing? I’m counting beats, counting syllables, and counting pauses.” Referring to a blues turned rap song he performed during the workshop, Jones says, “what I did when I did that rap song is I chopped it up, actually divided the beats into smaller parts. It’s math without the pencil and the paper.“
Music can also tie into social studies. Jones said, “it’s great when you’re trying to understand folks coming in from other cultures. The songs coming from Mexico, Europe, Asia, or Africa, are only separated by barriers of language because the feelings are the same. You can get into that mood, that feeling, into that vibe, if you share this music.”
He continued by saying, “You think about songwriting, it’s poetry, it’s vocabulary, it’s rhythm, it’s syntax, it’s simile, it’s metaphor, and the art teachers are the ones who provide the gravy to make it interesting.”
McCann told Eyes On Windsor, “Blues In The Schools is a program that comes right out of Memphis from the Blues Foundation, they’re not running it, but they have guidelines to follow.“ CSBS is one of over 200 affiliates of the world renowned Memphis based Blues Foundation.
The Blues Foundation’s website describes the program as follows: “Blues in the Schools offers the opportunity for students of all ages to engage in multidisciplinary, whole-language learning using the study of music, math, language arts, history, anthropology, and sociology in a hands-on approach celebrating creative self-expression. By bringing the blues genre into the classroom, students are exposed to these traditional subjects, while breaking down racial barriers and opening dialogue about cultural diversity.”
The CSBS books 8 to 10 blues acts for shows in Windsor each year. In December they have a show featuring the youthful soulful Memphis blues quintet Southern Avenue, and in 2019 they’ll host the award winning high energy Ghost Town Blues Band. In addition to the shows, the CSBS can make the bands, and future acts, available to local students as part of the Blues In The Schools program.
Jacqueline Cadarette, CSBS member and elementary school teacher, concluded the workshop by telling the teachers that, “we can work together to have these artists in your schools. Workshops can be connected to copyright and lyric writing, or mathematics, ultimately it all boils down to you bringing it into your classroom and networking with us.”
“If you see any of the upcoming groups coming through and you’d like to get them into your school reach out to us. We can have them come (a few days) early when we have them booked and get them to do a workshop for students.”
Jackie encouraged the teachers to collaborate with the Canada South Blues Society about what it is exactly they’d like the students to learn and they can tailor workshops to that.
McCann added, “It does cost money to run Blues In The Schools, so we have to find some sponsors and do some fundraising to help out with the costs.” Organizations and businesses interested in sponsoring the program are encouraged to contact the CSBS.
For more information, or to contact the CSBS please visit http://www.bluessociety.ca
For more information about Reverend Robert B. Jones, Sr. please visit https://www.revrobertjones.com