The Mississippi Valley Blues Society welcomes musician/educator TJ Wheeler as the artist-in-residence for Blues in the Schools April 18 through 22. Besides presenting his Hope, Heroes, and the Blues program at Quad-City area schools, Wheeler will be working closely with Bettendorf students in all kinds of music groups from jazz band and smaller blues/soul combos to the full stage band, culminating in a concert at Heritage Church on April 21. Wheeler’s residency is made possible by major funding from the Riverboat Development Authority, and it includes two free and open to the public sessions:
· ettendorf Public Library, 2950 Learning Campus Dr., Bettendorf IA
· Concert at Heritage Church, 2700 Middle Road, Bettendorf IA
Wheeler is excited to be collaborating with students under the guidance of Bettendorf Schools Music Director Michael Dynes. For the April 21 concert they’ve already decided on a Count Basie-like Big Band Blues/ Swing Jazz number and some West Side urban blues, along with a Doug Beach blues chart called "Cut to the Chase" and a Berg arrangement of "Blue Train." Don’t be surprised to hear a version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire” at the concert too.
A recipient of the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award in Education, Wheeler is a treasure of American Roots music, a living, one-man Juke Joint. He performs his gumbo of Blues, Jazz, Ragtime and more on a wide variety of instruments, including the 7-string guitar, ukulele, tenor banjo, gas can guitar, 1-string diddley bow, tap percussion, and kazoo. He takes his audiences to the blues of the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans second line jazz, to his own original blues and jazz compositions. Wheeler brings these musical genres to life in his interactive performances, and students of all ages around the world have been enlightened by his knowledge of the history and stories behind the music.
This year marks the 26th anniversary of Wheeler’s program, Hope, Heroes and the Blues. What started with a small grant from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation has grown into an internationally renowned program, which has been performed on five continents for over 450,000 students. The purpose of Hope, Heroes and the Blues is to not only interactively communicate the musical highways and byways of the blues, but also to serve as an entry point of learning African American culture, past and present. Playwright August Wilson said, “In centuries to come, historians will use the blues as the chronicles of Black History.” For certain, Hope, Heroes and the Blues uses the music itself to tell most of its story.
Altogether, Wheeler has over 35 years of teaching and performing experience. He received official certification from the New Hampshire Department of Education to teach in grades K-12 in the field of performing Arts. He has always been a proponent of and pioneer in the field of integrated art curriculum. Using the blues as an entry point into all subjects, Wheeler’s themes highlight connections to such courses as Social Studies, English, History, Math, Science, and Art. In 2003 he used these ideas as a contributing writer for PBS’s Year of the Blues Educational Curriculum.