A guy will promise you the world and give you nothin', and that's the blues.

- Otis Rush

Blues Education News

News, Upcoming and Past Events from the MVBS Education Committee.

Bret Dale and Ellis KellThe Mississippi Valley Blues Society continues its Blues in the Schools Artists-in-Residence program this spring with educators and musicians Ellis Kell and Bret Dale visiting 10 area schools the week of April 7 through 11. Ellis and Bret will also be performing at three open-to-the-public venues:

Tuesday April 8 at 7:00 p.m.—Bettendorf Public Library, 18th St. and Tech Drive, Bettendorf IA

Wednesday April 9 at 6:30—Cool Beanz, 1325 30th Street, Rock Island IL

Thursday April 10 at 6:30 (with a band)—River Music Experience upstairs, 2nd and Main Streets, Davenport IA

Ellis and Bret are both educators with the River Music Experience. Ellis has been instrumental in the success of the RME's Winter Blues Program and in bringing those kids to the BluesFest's BlueSKool every year. Bret will join him at BlueSKool this year. Both musicians believe in the power of the blues to heal, as a form of self-expression, as a celebration of life and therapy for the soul.

Their program, THE BLUES: HEART & SOUL OF AMERICAN ROOTS MUSIC, will trace the origins and significance of the blues as the cornerstone of American roots music and contemporary music, through live performance, stories and audience interaction. From Congo Square and cotton fields in the Great Migration to Beale Street, Maxwell Street and beyond, they deliver the goods with passion and respect for the magic and mystery found in "three chords + the truth."

Bret Dale & Ellis Kell are both noted blues purveyors in and beyond the Quad Cities music scene, as well as members of the programming staff at River Music Experience (RME). Bret performs as lead guitarist with The Candymakers and Pieces of Candy groups, as well as guitarist with Chicago's legendary Lonnie Brooks. Ellis Kell has fronted a five-piece blues band for over 20 years, opening shows for B. B. King, Robert Cray, Johnny Winter, and Little Feat, as well as guest performances with Charlie Musselwhite and Bill Payne, and as a member of the Whoozdads? acoustic quartet.


robertjones400For over 25 years Robert Jones has been a champion of American Roots music, with a special emphasis on traditional African American music. He is also a storyteller, a preacher, an artist, and a teacher. The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents Robert Jones as its February Blues in the Schools artist-in-residency for the week of February 24-28 for workshops at 10 area schools and two open-to-the-public performances:

Wednesday, Feb. 26: Cool Beanz—1325 30th St., Rock Island IL; 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Thursday, Feb.27: River Music Experience—2nd and Main, Davenport; 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Robert Jones says, "Stories, spirituals, blues, work songs, field hollers, country music, folk songs, gospel and original songs are all a part of fabric of America's culture. This is the music that gave the world blues, jazz, R&B, bluegrass, rock and even Hip Hop. They give insight into the way that we have lived and the ways that we continue to live together. I feel it is the responsibility of the artist to pass along and to build upon that which has been learned from earlier generations."

Robert Jones plays guitar, fiddle, harmonica, quills, banjo and mandolin. He's played with John Hammond, the Holmes Brothers, Hubert Sumlin, Cephas & Wiggins, Keb Mo', Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Howard Armstrong, Nappy Brown, Roy BookBinder, David Bromberg, Chris Smither, Guy Davis, Pinetop Perkins, Saffire, and Willie Dixon. This faculty member at Wayne State University, Port Townsend Blues Week. and Fur Peace Ranch is the recipient of the international Blues Foundation's 2007 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Education and was the 2010 Teller-in-Residence—National Storytelling Center, Jonesborough TN.

Robert Jones was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1956. His father was from West Pointe, Mississippi and his mother hailed from Conecuh County, Alabama. Consequently, Robert grew up in Detroit in a very Southern household. Early on Robert Jones fell under the influence of his maternal grandmother's record collection. He grew up listening to and loving a wide variety of music, especially the blues.


Terrance SimienZydeco musician and Grammy winner Terrance Simien will be in the Quad Cities the week of November 4 as part of the MVBS Blues in the Schools artists-in-residence series for the 2013-2014 school year. This is the first time he has visited our area as an educator, and the Education Committee is excited by his Creole for Kidz & The History of Zydeco program. Terrance will be visiting 10 schools and presenting 4 open-to-the-public performances:

• Wed. Nov. 6, 11:30-12:30 p.m.—CASI, 1034 W. Kimberly, Davenport IA

• Thurs. Nov. 7, 7:00-9:00 p.m.—River Music Experience, Community Stage, 2nd and Main Streets, Davenport IA

• Fri. Nov. 8, 9:00 p.m.—The Muddy Waters, 1708 State St., Bettendorf IA

Terrance Simien (born September 3, 1965 in Mallet, Louisiana), a zydeco musician, vocalist and songwriter, is an eighth generation Creole from one of the earliest Creole families documented to have settled in St. Landry Parish. He was introduced to music via the piano at home, the Catholic Church choir, and in school band programs where he played trumpet.

While in his teens, he taught himself to play accordion and formed his first band, Terrance Simien & The Mallet Playboys, and began to play the regional zydeco club and church hall circuit. The early 1980s was a pivotal time in zydeco music history since the pioneers of the genre were aging and the music was in jeopardy of dying off without the critical presence of emerging artists perpetuating the traditions. In 1983 at the young age of 18, Simien began touring professionally and by 20 he was sharing the stage with Fats Domino and Sarah Vaughn at the Berne Jazz Festival. His career exploded after that, and he remains a pivotal part of zydeco music history. Simien was also vital to the "renaissance" of a genre that was becoming extinct with the passing of each pioneer, starting with Clifton Chenier in 1987. By the end of the 1990s, all of the other influential pioneers had departed. This placed Simien at the forefront of an exciting period of growth and popularity for his genre.

Simien and his band have toured internationally, presenting over 7000 live performances in more than 40 countries, and released dozens of solo recordings and collaborations. He has shared studio and stage with Paul Simon, Dr. John, The Meters, Marcia Ball, Dave Matthews, Stevie Wonder, Robert Palmer and the roots rockers Los Lobos.


hal reed350The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents Hal Reed and Kevin Burt for its Blues in the Schools Artists in Residency Series for the week of February 25 to March 1, 2013. Hal and Kevin will conduct their "Generations of Blues" workshops at area schools and two Open to the Public performances:

Moline Public Library, Gold Room - Tuesday, Feb. 26, 7 - 8:30 p.m. (3210 41st Street, Moline, IL)

River Music Experience, Community Stage - Thursday Feb. 28, 7-9 p.m. (2nd and Main Streets in Davenport, IA)

Through storytelling, discussions, and musical demonstration, Hal and Kevin will trace blues music's history and culture from its African roots through today's era, showing how and where the blues originated and threaded its way through all cultures in our society. The goal is that students today continue to appreciate, understand and carry their fathers' and mothers' music into the next generation.

Blues harmonica player, guitarist, singer and educator Hal Reed was born in Mississippi just a few miles from the Delta, where he grew up influenced by his grandfather, a talented southern folk-blues artist who in addition to inspiring young Hal's love for the blues taught Hal the need to pass it on from generation to generation.

Besides being a bandleader in the Quad-Cities, Hal is also the owner of The Muddy Waters in Bettendorf, where he brings in blues artists every week. And for the past five years he has been a teacher at the River Music Experience's Winter Blues program. Hal has brought his "Generations of Blues" program to area schools three times before, to great acclaim.

kevin burt400For over 20 years, Kevin "B.F." Burt has been electritying audiences throughout the nation, dispelling the myth that true blues has no roots in Iowa.  His soul-inspired presentation is unique, which consistently gets him compared to a range of artists like Bill Withers and Aaron Neville, with the ability to build an audience rapport that has been compared to B.B. King.  Kevin is a self-taught musician (vocals, harmonica and guitar) who has also had some stage acting experience.  In the off-Broadway play, Klub Ka, the Blues Legend, Kevin played Papa Gee and arranged all of the blues music.  The Play, which originally ran in Iowa City and then in Washington D.C., also had a two-week run at LaMama's Experimental Theater in New York City and was sold out each night.  Kevin also had roles in several other plays at the University of Iowa - for example, playing Whining Boy in the acclaimed August Wilson play The Piano Lesson.


Maggie BrownChicago singer and educator Maggie Brown will be the MVBS Blues in the Schools artist-in residence in Quad City area schools during the week of November 26-30. She will also appear at four open-to-the-public performances:

  • Monday Nov. 26, 6:30 p.m. - Davenport Public Library Eastern Ave. Branch, 6000 Eastern Ave., Davenport
  • Wednesday Nov. 28, 10:00 a.m. - CASI, 1035 W. Kimberly Rd., Davenport
  • Thursday Nov. 29, 7:00 p.m. - River Music Experience Cafe, 2nd and Main, Davenport
  • Friday Nov. 30 6:00 p.m. - Bucktown Center for the Arts, Studio 56 at suite 201-B, 225 E. 2nd Street, Davenport

The MVBS Education Committee was introduced to Maggie Brown originally when Nate Lawrence brought her to Davenport for the Polyrhythms Third Sunday Jazz program at the River Music Experience. We were so impressed with her performance that we asked Maggie to come back to conduct three days of workshops for kids the week of the 2012 BluesFest, and then to bring those kids and her talent to BlueSKool at the festival.

Maggie Brown is a tremendously talented singer and performer using her gift to not only entertain, but educate as well. Maggie is the daughter of the late Oscar Brown, Jr. a world renowned composer, social activist, and legendary giant of the jazz music scene. Mr. Brown passed on his artistic integrity to his daughter, who now uses her own voice to create images that excite and inspire. For 20 years, Maggie has nationally toured her one-woman show, "LEGACY: Our Wealth of Music," which follows the history and evolution of African American music and covers a wide range of musical forms.

Mother of three young boys, Maggie sees the need to work through the arts to make an impact on young lives. Her message fosters care and respect for words, music, history and life. Maggie describes what she does as "edutainment." She calls on all of her talents to demonstrate how black people courageously and virtuously responded to the horrors of slavery, segregation and disenfranchisement by creating inspiring and thriving art forms which have become part of our American cultural heritage.

Maggie is called upon by various arts organizations and schools to serve as artist-in-residence. Maggie enjoys using those classroom opportunities to engage young minds with poetry and songs that help them recognize and hopefully value their place in the world. Tracing the history of African-American creativity, Maggie examines the roots of black musical culture and its greatest flowerings, from African chant to early ragtime, from blues to jazz.

Major funding for Maggie Brown's Blues in the Schools residency comes from the Riverboat Development Authority. Thanks also to our sponsors The Iowa Arts Council, The Moline Foundation, Alcoa, The Lodge, and KALA radio.


Scott AinslieGuitarist, educator, and historian Scott Ainslie will be the first artist-in-residence for the MVBS Blues in the Schools program for the 2012-2013 academic year. He will visit schools in the Quad-City area during the week of October 22-26. He will also present three open-to-the-public performances:

• Monday October 22—LeClaire Community Library (3rd and Wisconsin, LeClaire IA), 6:00-7:00 p.m.

• Thursday October 25—River Music Experience Café (2nd and Main, Davenport IA), 7:00-9:00 p.m.

• Friday October 26—The Muddy Waters (1708 State St. Bettendorf IA), 9:00-9:45 p.m.

In 1967, at a Mike Seeger concert at his high school outside of Washington DC, Scott Ainslie heard Virginia bluesman John Jackson (1924-2002) play a couple of songs. Things haven't been the same since.

Scott started playing guitar a month later and has now spent nearly forty years studying and playing traditional music, visiting and documenting senior musicians in America's old-time banjo and fiddle music, blues and gospel traditions.

With five CDs, a teaching DVD on the guitar techniques of Delta blues legend Robert Johnson, and a book on Johnson's music — Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads (Hal Leonard, 1992)—to his credit, as a performer and a teacher Scott Ainslie continues to present programs that are vital and entertaining. On the road, Scott performs and presents workshops in schools, libraries, community arts venues, colleges and festivals. He is also a respected instructor at music programs across the country and maintains an active schedule teaching guitar out of his home in Brattleboro, Vermont.


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