Bluesman Guy Davis marked Martin Luther King Day with a performance at Ticonderoga Elementary School Jan. 22, touching on music, history and race.
Ticonderoga Elementary School students are too young — hopefully — to have the blues, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn about them.
Bluesman Guy Davis marked Martin Luther King Day with a performance at the school Jan. 22, touching on music, history and race.
“Being that Martin Luther King Jr.'s day was the day before, I thought blues music would be a great way to connect our students to this integral part of Black history,” explained Russ Cook, a Ti teacher who organized the event.
Prior to the concert students completed classroom projects.
“These two educational/musical shows taught children a little history of the blues and its relevance today,” Cook said. “Guy is a fantastic performer who is keeping this distinctly American form of art alive. Our students prepared for the show by creating a backdrop for his performance, delving into blues poetry and creating the connection between this form of music and Black history.”
Davis sang songs from the Mississippi Delta, Piedmont and other areas, offering historical notes and humor between songs.
“The blues is a lot like a harmonica,” Davis told students. “Nobody knows where they came from or how they started.
“The blues are over a hundred years old,” he said. “The blues traveled the country like no music ever before, spreading from town to town.”
Singing songs like “Dust My Broom” and “The Candy Man,” Davis asked students to sing along.
Wayne Chagnon, Ti elementary music teacher, prepared for the show by giving his classes an introductory lecture on the historical foundations of the Blues.
“We started with the slave times and how the ‘African American Spiritual’ and ‘Call and Response’ songs became the catalyst for the genre itself,” Chagnon said. “From the very beginning of the Blues to today the emphasis is still on hard times and experiencing a great loss. The genre itself opened the door for many Black performers to make there way in the music industry and also lent itself to the explosion of new music such as Jazz and Rock. The students also learned about Guy Davis through his website and Youtube videos.”
Teacher Barb Peria used the concert as an opportunity to discuss the civil rights movement with her students.
“We started out with talking about civil rights, as Guy’s recent shows were involved with storytelling in that realm,” Peria said. “We read ‘The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963’ and viewed parts of the Spike Lee documentary ‘Four Little Girls,’ about the notorious racial bombing of an African American church during the civil rights movement.
“The sixth graders have also viewed Guy’s interview on MSG in New York and in our investigation of the biography genre have read Guy Davis’ ‘The Routes of Blues’,” she added. “The students are very excited about this storytelling genre in Blues music as many of them have never been exposed to it.
“To wrap it all up students visited one of Guy’s favorite websites, tolerance.org, which is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center that focuses on teaching diversity, equality and respect in school and in our everyday lives” Peria said. “Students will use this and other websites to collect information for research projects on tolerance, diversity, and other current issues in the news.”
Money for the concert came from the Box Tops for Education program that Ti parents and teachers have participated in.
Davis is the son of actors/writers Ruby Dee and the late Ossie Davis. A musician, composer, actor, director, writer and bluesman, he has appeared on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and other national programs. He had a role in the television series “One Life to Live” and has acted on and off Broadway.
Throughout his career, Davis has dedicated himself to reviving the traditions of acoustic Blues.
Davis has done residency programs for the Lincoln Center Institute, the Kennedy Center and the State Theatre in New Jersey and works with “Young Audiences of NJ,” doing classroom workshops and assembly programs all across the country and in Canada for elementary, high school and college students.