Friday, August 14, 2009

The Alabama Blues Project






I'm in Alabama now, in the office of the Alabama Blues Project, a wonderful non-profit organization co-founded by my niece, Debbie Bond, and expanded under her and Rick Asherson's co-directorship. The Alabama Blues Project (ABP) is dedicated to preserving and promoting the blues through educational programs, live performances, exhibits, etc. with a special emphasis on Alabama's contributions to the blues. Sponsors of the ABP include National Endowment for the Arts, the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Alligator Records, and Bonnie Raitt, among others.

As a former teacher, concerned that young people get exposure to the arts, I'm especially impressed by the ABP's three-pronged educational outreach:

1.school residencies (including out of state residencies) that expose students to blues history as well as hands on musical instrucion with traditional blues instruments.

2.An after school blues camp one day a week for 10-12 weeks that includes musical instruction, life skills instruction, blues history, and culminates in an onstage performance with known blues artists such as Sam Lay, Homemade Jamz, and others.

3.A week-long intensive summer blues camp where students learn to play an instrument, receive vocal instruction by blues artists such as Carrolyn Shines (daughter of legendary Johnny Shines) and visual art instruction by world renowned folk artists Lonnie Holley and Miz Thang. This camp culminates in a "blues cafe" performance.

There is also an advanced band that has grown out of repeated attendance of these camps, and the advanced band plays gigs of its own at community events and festivals.

In addition to directing the ABP, Debbie has a popular blues band that plays around the state and out of state. She's a vocalist and guitarist. Rick Asherson, her husband, plays keyboard and harmonica. A sax player and various guitarists and drummers fill out the rest of the band. In the past Debbie has played back-up guitar and has sung with Willie King here and in Europe. In earlier days she played and sang with her mentor, Johnnie Shines,and went on a European tour with Little Whitt and Big Bo.

I had the pleasure of attending a gig yesterday at a farmer's market where her band plays regularly. It was an afternoon that I didn't want to end. (It was the first time I had seen one of their performances, and I was one proud auntie.) At one point, Rachel Edwards, a 20-year-old graduate of the APB program came up to sing with the band. She, too, was fabulous. This is a name to watch for in the future.

Meanwhile, to learn more about the ABP, go to: http://www.alabamablues.org/educationprograms.htm#residencies

You'll be glad you did.

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