The blues can be more than a music lesson

Fourth grade students from Tunica Elementary School, left to right, Alysia Ware, Kendrenesha Pollard, Brian Franklin and Elajah Davis sing their blues while keeping the beat with their Boom Whackers, a form of rhythm sticks. (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated press)

Right next to a road known as the Blues Highway, fourth-grade students at Tunica Elementary in Mississippi explore local Delta music to learn about rhyme and rhythm.

Their teacher also uses the new Mississippi Blues Trail program to help them learn in unexpected ways.

Chevonne Dixon incorporates the blues into science, math, social studies and English lessons. So far this school year, the kids in her class have written blues songs about the weather and the issues of being a child. They also read classic blues lyrics to learn more about cotton cultivation.

“It allows them to remember information, especially with that slow melodic sound,” Dixon said.

Tunica Elementary is just off US Highway 61, the Blues Highway, which winds south of Memphis, Tennessee, through the Mississippi Delta.

Chevonne Dixon, fourth grade teacher at Tunica Primary School. (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated press)

In 2006, academics and tourism developers began creating the Mississippi Blues Trail, a series of road markers that provide information about people, places, and events important to the development of local music.

The Blues Trail Curriculum builds on the research that has been done for markers. Mark Malone, music teacher, designed the program with the help of blues specialist Scott Barretta.

Classes, aimed at fourth graders, focus on subjects such as music, cotton, transport and media.

One recent morning, Dixon played a recording of Malone singing “Homework Blues”, accompanied by simple piano notes. He sings a phrase; the kids echo him: “I have a lot of homework now / Social studies, science and math, oh wow”.

At the end of the song, Dixon tells the students to work in groups, “We’ll see if you can create your own blues song. “

Groups write about reading, art and math. After five minutes they sing what they wrote: “Comparing fractions is so hard / It’s easier to put them on a math board. “

The children also read the lyrics to “Cotton Crop Blues,” recorded by harmonica player James Cotton in 1954. Student Jimmarious Frazier said he enjoyed learning about capsule weevils, the bugs that can ruin cotton crops.

The lessons will soon shift from cotton to another common thread that can be found in many blues compositions: civil rights.

Associated press


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