Local students play the blues

Published 10:39 pm Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Before rap, rock and roll, jazz or country, there was just the blues.

But now, the influence of blues music is found in all these genres.

“The music is from down here in the South and Alabama is important in the story,” said Debbie Bond, Alabama Blues Project executive director. “This is our indigenous music.”

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Bond visited Tipton-Durant Middle School this week to teach and perform blues music for, and with, the school’s seventh grade students.

Her program, the Alabama Blues Project (ABP), formed in 1995 to create a love of blues music in a generation all too often unfamiliar with the genre.

“More than anything, I just want them to enjoy music,” Bond said.

Students met for two days with Bond to study prominent blues musicians, such as W.C. Handy, Big Mama Thornton, Bessie Smith and Willie King. The students also learned to play the harmonica and “channel their soul” into the blues music.

“We teach by ear, which is the way blues is learned, and it’s a great way to come in and immediately kids have a sense of being able to improvise,” Bond said. “You’re given a musical vocabulary and then learn to make up your own and express yourself in your own way.”

Bond then chose about 30 students to perform with her and the ABP band at an all-school assembly Wednesday.

Theron Riley, 13, played both the harmonica and “shakers,” hollowed fake apples and oranges with small beads inside which make a noise when shaken.

“I liked performing in front of everybody,” Theron said. “It gives you a little more fame.”

Prior to the class, Theron did not know much about blues music or how to play the harmonica. Now that he has been introduced to both, he may consider a career, or at least hobby, in blues music.

“I like music, but I didn’t like blues until now,” Theron said.

Monique York, 13, was not chosen to perform with the band, but still enjoyed listening to the performance.

“Even though I didn’t perform, I still would have gotten up and there and tried my best to do the harmonica,” Monique said. “It’s meant a lot to me for [Bond] to come here … to help us learn more about the blues and help get the word out that the blues is not bad music. It’s a have fun and rock out [music].”

Tipton-Durant was able to invited ABP to the school thanks to a grant from the Alabama Black Belt Arts Education Initiative from the Alabama Department of Education.