Students learn to the blues

Published 9:15 pm Friday, March 19, 2010

Southside Elementary students have a newfound love of blues music.

Thanks to the three-week program with blues educator Kenneth Jackson and the Basically Blues curriculum, students learned while tapping along to the 12-bar rhythms.

“They call me the blues man,” Jackson said. “I can’t hit a note without them cheering.”

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His program teaches students the history of the blues, how to sing scat and the structure of blues music, while his music teaches the alphabet, farm animals, hygiene, nursery rhymes and more.

One teaching song is the “Good Nutrition Blues,” explaining the importance of vitamins, drinking water and getting rest.

“We cannot live our lives on burgers and fries,” Jackson said. “That’s the catch line.”

Another favorite song is “My Lunch is Gone” to the tune of “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King.

Working with each class once each week in a 30-minute session, Jackson prepared the students for a performance Thursday evening. Between preparations, he enlightened them on blues history and song structure.

Listening to the music and counting measure, students now understand the 12-bar rhythms.

Jackson worked with students for one week last year. When he returned to the school this year, students welcomed him with smiles.

“They even remembered my guitar’s name is Betty Jean,” Jackson said.

As a special treat for all their hard work, Jackson performed Friday for students, teachers and parents.

“It was a whole lot of fun,” said kindergartener Ambernesha Benjamin.

Her favorite memory of classes with Jackson was when he placed the guitar horizontal to play it.

“He played the guitar string like this,” Ambernesha said, as she played her air guitar.

But content of the songs was the best part of the classes for kindergartner Damarious Bender.

“I like his music and nursery rhymes,” Damarious said. “He’s also got good instruments.”

Anna Mary Harrison, visual arts teacher at Southside Primary, wrote grants to the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Alabama Black Belt Arts Education Initiative for more than $6,000 to fund Jackson’s workshop, and she plans to use the additional funds to bring another program.

“Everybody loved him so much,” Harrison said. “That was our goal to have him come back and perform longer.”

Students learn by visual, auditory or tactical means, all of which are combined in workshops like Jackson’s.

“They remember it better when they have actively participated in it,” Harrison said.

Principal Melanie Wright has enjoyed watching the excitement of the students.

“We look forward to having more grant funded programs,” Wright said.

Jackson began performing in nightclubs in the ninth grade.

He pursued musical education from Texas College in Tyler, Texas to marry his love of performing music and education children. He now lives in Memphis, Tenn.