Newspaper article News Sentinel

Program Provides Free Instruction in Music, History, Culture

Newspaper article News Sentinel

Program Provides Free Instruction in Music, History, Culture

Article excerpt

The silver-maned guitarist artfully bends the strings on a guitar and the hefty younger vocalist brings up some soulful sounds from somewhere deep down in his gut. They're clearly both really into the music, the song, the audience which happens to be a group of third to fifth grade students at Pond Gap Elementary. The kids are into it, too, and start clapping out beats to the rhythm as the performers encourage them to keep it up.

This is Blues in the Schools, a program presented by Smoky Mountain Blues Society (SMBS) to educational institutions (and other places) for free. It's about 4:30 on a Friday and there is a smattering of teachers, school officials along with the afterschool clump of students, all of whom are enjoying the educational and musical presentation of blues guitarist Robert Higginbotham and blues belter Doug Harris. Both are SMBS members and the instructor/ performers for the three-week program that ran at Pond Gap through late-March and is more recently at the Norwood Elementary School.

The Blues in the Schools program isn't simply a musical performance. Higginbotham and Harris teach the kids about the structural elements of music itself, explore the African roots of blues music, trace its subsequent evolution in this country, and discuss the musical form's extraordinary influence on American culture -- all complemented with a printed hand-out.

One young student glad Higginbotham and Harris bring their talent and instruction to area schools is 10-year-old 5th grader Nadia Morales.

"I thought it was really exciting and I thought it was really kind of them to come to our school and sing for us," said Nadia. "It was also educational. I learned about famous blues people and some of the people who invented the blues."

Higginbotham and Harris are long-time blues performers. Higginbotham earned his silvered locks playing music professionally for some 45 years, about 15 of them in this area, with the occasional break now and again. He's played in a number of blues bands through the years and does as many as 150 gigs a year these days, primarily with his band Grits. …

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