Alabama Blues Project Overview
Target demographics: Our blues camps serve children between the ages of 8-17. While we are open to the entire community, we make a special effort to recruit at-risk children. Our camps are often very diverse. Any school may bring the Alabama Blues Project in for a program. We especially travel to schools in rural areas where funding for arts and music has been cut. Our Alabama blues preservation programs benefit the state for tourism and blues lovers from everywhere!
Geographic areas served: Blues Camps in the West Alabama are and School Programs nationwide
The late, great, legendary blues man Johnny Shines realized the importance of blues education and often visited schools in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, area. He became our inspiration for creating the Alabama Blues Project's educational programs. We now present a wide range of blues education programs, workshops, and school residencies across our state and beyond.
These education programs have become part of a wider movement of innovative arts and education programming throughout the country. The ABP is proud to have been the recipient of several awards for its arts programming, including the Druid City Arts Award, the Blues Foundation's "Keeping The Blues Alive" award, and the national "Coming Up Taller" award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
The importance of the multi-cultural and interdisciplinary character of teaching about the blues cannot be overstated: it is an outstanding way to connect to America's social and musical history. Through a study of the blues, students learn that "black history" is American history, and that the blues is the result of the blending of African and European musical cultures. While learning blues history, students also learn about geography, history, politics, economics, the study of culture, and music appreciation. Lyrics spark history lessons, and songwriting is used to develop creative-writing and critical-thinking skills. The active involvement and sense of achievement gained from engaging in performing arts foster self-esteem and confidence in students. They develop skills in communication and teamwork by participating in the performing arts with fellow students. Because the blues began as an African American art form, students witness a slice of America's cultural heritage and learn to respect the contributions of diverse groups within the fabric of society. The arts should be at the core of any well-rounded curriculum, and at a time when cuts for arts education have become widespread, blues education programs offer a way to bring the arts back into schools in a relevant form.
The blues originated as a uniquely Southern art form, so students of the blues learn about the impact our region has had on modern American musical culture. Our programs emphasize regional artists, which helps to build cultural self-esteem, a sense of history, and a mutual respect between the races. Studying the blues is a perfect way to jump-start students into a deeper appreciation of the music they hear every day by linking it to the roots of American music. Students can then more easily make connections to other forms of music, such as rock and roll, country, and rap, which evolved from the blues. As our unique blues heritage is revealed to us, we can develop a sense of cultural pride in ourselves as Alabamians.
Despite the crucial role the blues has played in the evolution of American music, it is not currently in the mainstream of modern popular music. Like jazz and classical music, the blues is rarely heard on commercial radio, though it can be heard on weekly blues shows thanks mostly to public and university-owned radio stations. It has been many years since a blues song became a Top 40 radio hit, and children rarely have the opportunity to hear blues music performed live. Blues education programs like ours are designed to counter these effects while providing the many benefits outlined above.
The state of Mississippi and cities such as New Orleans, Memphis, and St. Louis, are among the many areas that have celebrated and promoted their unique blues history. Mississippi presents many annual blues festivals throughout the state and actively pursues international blues tourism. There are an increasing number of blues museums across the state which document and celebrate regional blues musicians and blues culture. The University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture publishes the internationally renowned monthly magazine "Living Blues" and is also building an impressive blues archive. A new Mississippi Blues Trail celebrating significant blues sites and contributors to the state's blues music tradition has been launched through the Mississippi Development Authority's Tourism Division Heritage Trails Program and The Mississippi Blues Commission.
In contrast, it seems that Alabama is only beginning to recognize and celebrate its rich blues history. We would like to stimulate and encourage a greater awareness, understanding, and appreciation of Alabama blues throughout the state and beyond so we can help bring attention to the many outstanding Alabama blues men and women who have worked so hard to create this wonderful music.