Introduction to the Blues

Lecture, Performance and Demonstration

Audience: Grades K-12

Time: 45-60 minutes


Through a balanced mixture of performance, lecture, and participation, students are introduced to the historical and cultural significance of blues music.

This 45 to 60-minute program examines the blues from its West African roots, through slavery times and Reconstruction, to modern Chicago style blues and beyond. Students learn how slaves struggled to keep their music alive even though their native languages, instruments, and religions were banned on southern plantations. Students are shown how African melodic and rhythmic influences survived through spirituals and work songs, and how the call and response pattern, also with African roots, continues to be found in many musical styles today.

In post slavery times, with few personal possessions, African Americans continued to expand their musical traditions and sometime in the late 19th century the blues evolved and came to be played all over the Southern states. At this time, when sharecropping replaced slavery as the system for cotton farming and most African Americans lived in rural poverty, the early "Country Blues" was played at house parties, family gatherings and juke joints. The blues musicians played on home-made instruments such as the “didley bo,” washboards, jugs, washtubs and cowbells, or bought inexpensive instruments such as acoustic guitars and harmonicas. The ABP Band demonstrates some of these instruments.

Students and performers follow the "Country Style” blues as it moved, along with the Great Migration, to Northern cities like Chicago and Detroit to become urbanized and electrified. Students learn how blues music impacted jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll, as well as country, rap, and hip hop and blues is the roots of contemporary music. Students are introduced to some of the numerous important blues musicians from Alabama like Big Mama Thornton, Dinah Washington, and W. C. Handy.

"An Introduction to the Blues" always features an outstanding guest Alabama blues musician who performs with the Alabama Blues Project Band and talks with the audience about life as a professional blues musician. Previously featured guest artists include Willie King, Little Jimmy Reed, Eddie Kirkland and Carroline Shines.

School Residencies

Music instruction, learning blues history, and
exploring the blues through the visual and performing arts.

Audience: Grades 4-12

Time: During school hours, as an after-school program, or as a summer program. 3 – 4 hours per session. Number of sessions per week and number of weeks vary and can be customized according to individual requirements.


Music and Performance
The center point of an ABP Artist Residency is the hands-on musical instruction provided to participants of all grade levels. Working in small groups, students are given instruction by professional musicians in playing their choice of either blues harmonica, guitar, percussion, or vocals. Each residency culminates in a “blues extravaganza” performance by the student blues band. We encourage schools to incorporate the blues in a school wide theme and integrate the blues into the school curriculum. From creative writing, social studies, to art we have all kinds of wonderful examples of how schools can take an interdisplinary approach to integrating blues other subject areas during an ABP residency. The final extravaganza performance can also include an exhibition of student artwork or other blues-themed activities.

Blues History
It is impossible to teach the history of American blues music without learning about American history, so throughout each residency students experience an in-depth exploration of American history through the lens of the Blues. The six week curriculum follows a time-line of blues from it's African roots and slavery, through the Civil War, sharecropping, the Great Migration, urbanization, and electrification of the music, to the birth of rock and roll. In addition to demostrations, audio and video materials, each week is also devoted to learning about a particular Alabama blues musician. Students learn a musician's biographical informatio as well as their recording histories. Discussions with students focus on the cultural heritage of th blues andhow blues music with this blending of influences is the root of contemporary popular music. The ABP also works closely with teachers to integrate the blues theme into the wider school curriculum, especially art, creative writing, history and social studies.

Other Arts Components
These residencies can also combine with other creative disciplines such as poetry, photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, quilting, creative writing, theatre and dance. Students choose one of the additional creative components offered, and work with an experienced artist to create art that incorporates the blues theme.

Painting, Drawing and Sculpture
This component introduces students to the basics of drawing, painting or sculpture, depending on the art instructor’s choice. While learning about and looking at images of blues artists, students get to experiment with drawing, painting or sculpture, learn to define the themes they want to express, and create a finished work of art to exhibit at the end of the program.

The photography component provides students first hand experience in working with a professional photographer. As students begin to relate to the blues, they also become actively involved in documenting their experience on film. The instructor provides them with an introduction to basic traditional photography, the camera and its operation, film developing, digital photography, printing, as well as shooting and lighting techniques.

Theatre, Storytelling or Dance
Theatre, storytelling and dance are vital aspects of spiritual and cultural life, both in Africa and America. African American contributions to the performing arts has taken many forms and had a great impact on contemporary theatre, storytelling and dance today. This component teaches students to recognize the importance of both verbal and nonverbal creative expression. They are introduced to correct terminology for the performing arts and how they are used as communicative tools for feelings, dramatic themes and social issues.