Kentuck offers introduction to blues

Students, and perhaps most adults, would be hard pressed to name a blues artist who is alive today. That’s a shame for Alabamians, who are surrounded by the genre’s history. Luckily, a few local art initiatives would like to help educate us on blues history.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Alabama Blues Project and the Kentuck Arts Center will host “An Introduction to the Blues” in Kentuck’s Clarke building at 1922 5th Street in Northport. For $10, or $5 for Kentuck members, attendees will experience the history of the blues through lecture, performance and participation.

“We’ll try to have a balanced mixture of educational talk and performance,” said Debbie Bond, local musician and co-founder of ABP. “People will get to be entertained by the art of Alabama blues, and they’ll learn something, too.”

Bond will join keyboard and harmonica player Rick Ascherson, singer Rachel Edwards and harmonica player Jonathan Blakney as they guide the audience through Alabama’s blues history. Many believe that history has been underappreciated. While Mississippi claims the title of “birthplace of the blues,” Bond contends that this is a misnomer.

“I’d like to see that myth deconstructed,” Bond said. “Alabama has a huge role in the story of the blues.”

“An Introduction to the Blues” will propel its audience from blues’ roots in Africa and 1930s sharecropping to the progressive sounds they hear today. The program is usually used in schools, and ABP has even traveled to Iowa to share their musical insights with children.

Tonight’s agenda is geared more toward adults and marks the first time this program has been performed to a truly public audience. Though the audience may not be young, they may still have a lot to learn.

“Big Momma Thornton had a hit with ‘Hound Dog’ before Elvis ever did,” Bond said. “She’s from Alabama.”

The ABP has a rich history of educational initiatives. In fact, such programs have earned them the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award for education by the Blues Foundation — the world-renowned authority on blues preservation.

“I feel like I’m helping to keep the music alive,” Jonathan Blakney, an ABP student intern, said.

While receiving a blues education from the experts, attendees will also have a chance to view “The Music Lives On: Folk Song Tradition Told by Alabama Artists,” a folk art exhibition presented by Kentuck. The works depict Alabama’s rich musical tradition and will help to paint a picture of the blues in attendees’ minds. As colleagues in the arts, both ABP and Kentuck have high hopes for the evening.

“We’re both in the same business of promoting the lively arts in Alabama,” said Jan Pruitt, executive director of the Kentuck Museum Association. “Blue Monday is going to be a good night.”

Pruitt also voiced her excitement about future events in their new Clarke building. The venue can hold between 80 and 100 people.

“We think the venue is going to increase the kinds of things we can do,” Pruitt said. “And, of course, we’re open to all types of art.”

Tonight, that type of art will be the blues.

“There’s been so much attention in recent years as to how the arts build community, economy and cultural tourism,” Bond said. “If we raise awareness about that importance, there are so many different ways in which Alabama could benefit.”

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