Our mission is the preservation of blues music as a traditional and contemporary art form through interactive programs that educate and entertain. With educational programs, live performance, exhibits, and the development of archival and curriculum materials, we increase awareness of the role blues music has played in the development of popular American music, with a special focus on Alabama's contribution to that history. Our programs reach a wide variety of audiences, including at-risk and troubled youth, and our unique blues camps pass on Alabama's rich blues culture to the next generation while teaching self-esteem, discipline, cross cultural understanding, interaction, and teamwork.
WHY WE ARE NEEDED | IMPORTANCE OF ARTS EDUCATION
ALABAMA BLUES HISTORY
The Alabama Blues Project is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization which started in 1995 with a mission to educate the public about the importance of our wonderful Alabama blues heritage. Through programs that educate and entertain, the Alabama Blues Project has grown into an award-winning organization celebrating past and present Alabama blues artists while helping to preserve the rich blues culture of this state.
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.
OUR MISSION | IMPORTANCE OF ARTS EDUCATION | ALABAMA BLUES HISTORY
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.
OUR MISSION | INTRODUCTION TO THE ABP | ALABAMA BLUES HISTORY
Evidence proves that it is essential for children to learn the arts! Read the following research:
Creating Student Success
In School, Work, and Life
NAMM Report From the 2006 SupportMusic Coalition
National Affiliate Summit,
January 19–21, 2006 in
Essential Advocacy Resources for Music
Email us your
stories about the benefits of arts education!
OUR MISSION | INTRODUCTION TO THE ABP | WHY WE ARE NEEDED
In recent years,
national and international
interest in blues has dramatically increased, and we hear about the blues from Chicago, Texas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and other places, but when was the last time you heard any news about Alabama blues? Can you name a well known Alabama-based blues artist? Check out our links to Alabama artists to refresh your memory and learn about some new ones. Let us know if you can add to our list.
Mississippi, a state right next door to Alabama, is rich in blues history and talent but guess what . . .
the blues didn't stop at the Alabama state line!
In fact, Alabamians have always been at the crossroads of popular music. W. C. Handy, the Father Of The Blues, was born in Florence, Alabama, as was Sam Phillips of Sun Records, the man who first recorded many of the early blues men such as Howlin' Wolf, and also went on to record Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and many more. Big Mama Thornton, born in Ariton, Alabama, first recorded the Leiber and Stoller song "Hound Dog" three years before the great Elvis Presley made that song into an early rock and roll classic. She jammed in the streets of Montgomery with Autaugaville native blues harmonica legend Wild Child Butler.
Mamie Smith's rendition of Crazy Blues, generally recognized as the first blues song ever recorded, was written by Mobile native Perry Bradford and was only recorded because of the efforts of Bradford and publisher and composer W. C. Handy. There is also a rich early piano playing tradition by Alabama musicians such as Walter Rolland and Cow Cow Davenport. These musicians backed many of the 1920s blues queens like Birmingham-based blues diva Lucille Bogan.
Well known Alabamians have played many important roles in the making of American music as we know it, but Alabama blues culture has sadly not yet been well documented. There is still not one book on Alabama blues, but we hope that with continued research and interest it will be possible to bring the recognition and attention that the Alabama Blues truly deserves.
OUR MISSION | INTRODUCTION TO THE ABP
WHY WE ARE NEEDED | IMPORTANCE OF ARTS EDUCATION