Read – Heart of Art: Searching for the roots of the blues. This article was written by former student Anthony Reidel and published by the Burlington Free Press on April 2, 2014.
The blues is arguably America’s seminal musical form – the result of the interaction of Africanbased and European-based cultural factors and the socio-economic-political history of Black people in the United States. It is the basis of jazz and rock-and-roll and is known and played throughout the world.
Folklorist Alan Lomax called the Mississippi Delta “the land where the blues began.” It produced such important musicians in the 1920s and ‘30s as Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, and others whose music was resurrected during the 1960s by the Rolling Stones and many others. Some of these Mississippi musicians migrated to Memphis, where the blues began developing a more urban sound, laying the groundwork for R&B and soul.
In Chasing the Blues, we’ll explore the music, history, and geography of the Mississippi Delta and Memphis. We’ll visit such Delta landmarks as the “blues crossroads,” the Delta Blues Museum, the Stovall Plantation (Muddy Waters), the Tutweiller train station where W.C. Handy first heard a farmhand singing the blues, Po Monkey’s juke joint, Ground Zero blues club, the B.B. King Museum, and Mississippi John Hurt’s cabin. In Memphis, we’ll visit Beale Street blues clubs, the Rock & Soul Museum, Sun Records, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Students may also choose to visit Graceland (Elvis). Along the way we’ll hear live music, including a special session at the Center for Southern Folklore and a visit with musician/blues scholar Andy Cohen. We’ll also explore the relationship between the blues and the struggle for racial equality and civil rights, culminating in a visit to National Civil Rights Museum (in the former Loraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated).
The bulk of this course consists of a 7-day (plus 2 travel days) trip to Memphis and the Mississippi Delta over Spring Break, 2015. This is preceded by 2 3-hour classroom sessions and followed by 1 or 2 on-campus, 3-hour sessions. Group meetings are also held during the trip to process observations, view and discuss films and readings, and prepare for the next day. The course has a Blackboard site containing information, exercises, discussion forums, and links to e-reserve readings, exercises, and media materials. Students will keep a travel journal and submit one paper and a final project.
- To increase awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the blues as a distinctly American musical form
- To explore relationships between the blues and the political, social, economic, and geographical context (the Mississippi Delta) in which it developed
- To explore the relationships between “black” and “white” American cultural forms and between folk-based and popular culture
- To increase understanding of the Civil Rights Movement
Mark Greenberg (instructor) is an educator, writer, musician, and media producer. He has been teaching courses in American vernacular music and culture at UVM since 2005. Previously, he taught American Studies and Humanities at Goddard College. He has produced recordings for Pete Seeger, Doc Watson and other major American folk and vernacular musicians.