by Liza Mitchell
Growing up in a musical, Chicago household, bluesman Fruteland Jackson was immersed in blues culture from an early age. He cut his teeth on the Motown classics – known in his house as ‘I woke up this morning music’ – and received his first guitar from his Uncle Woodrow at the age of 12.
“He was the first bluesman I ever saw. Once when I was really little I heard him yelling in the front room, and I ran into the kitchen and told my mother something was wrong with Uncle Woodrow.
She said, ‘He’s not screaming. He is feeling pretty good’. I crept back up to the front and stared at him. I believe I was imprinted then,” Jackson says.
“Little did I know it would come back and sting me, and I would get so deeply involved in this kind of music. I went on with my life only to come full circle and start appreciating the music that I grew up on. Music hits you where you live.”
Today, the renowned musician, storyteller and educator shares the ABCs of blues music in a series of programs designed to expose children to this rich and storied art form. The George’s Music Blues in the Schools program was founded by Jackson, who was awarded the Blues Foundation’s
Keeping the Blues Alive for his educational outreach efforts.
“I come from a family of preachers and teachers. Being able to package information and represent comes easier for me. I’m a communicator in that regard,” says Jackson, noting that he was less than eager to share the “whiskey, drinking and cheating” kind of blues when he was initially
approached about presenting a children’s program years ago.
“I said they were too little to have the wherewithal to understand blues, so let them go on with their lesson,” he says. “I called a friend of mine, and he said ‘stick with Leadbelly and you can’t go wrong, but whatever you do, don’t sing ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’.”
“This is one of the things that we do each year before the festival, and the schedule is completely booked,” says coordinator Lisa Hines, who is the wife of the festival’s title sponsor, George Hines of George’s Music. “All in all we have 11 presentations, and we are very happy to welcome
Fruteland Jackson back. He is really celebrated as a blues artist and the founder of the Blues in the Schools program.”
Hines said each presentation is tailored to the particular age the children. For the youngest students, Jackson will teach the basics of the blues in the “Singing the Blues” program. “Blues is the music of expression. When I go and talk to second and third graders, they don’t really care
when W.C. Handy was born. They just want to hear some boogie woogie and grooves that sort of jump into the body and make you tap your foot without telling it to,” Jackson says. The older elementary school students will receive instruction in “Blues 101” which combines history, culture, education and music. High School programs are more intensive, because they are customized specifically for student musicians. Hines says these become an interactive jam session.“We educate the kids while they don’t know they are being educated, because we are
playing music in between”.
After 13 years of sharing the blues, Jackson welcomed the milestone of teaching one million students fortunate enough to receive the gospel of the blues from someone who considers himself equally fortunate to spread the wealth.
“I enjoy the back and forth. I enjoy teaching as well as I enjoy performing. There is something special in the human need for music. It has a power. It puts us in a frame of mind and environment, so we can do better what we want to do,” he says. “Blues can let you know that you are not alone, that someone has been where you’re going, and that everything is going to be alright.”
Blues in the Schools begins with a session at Fletcher High School and targets Beaches elementary through high school students, including those attending the Boys and Girls Club of Jacksonville Beach, before concluding the program at San Jose Episcopal School in Mandarin.
The 2013 Blues in the Schools Programs
March 18–10:40 am at Fletcher High School
March 19–9 am at Discovery Montessori School
March 19–12:30 pm at St. Paul’s Catholic School (K-4)
March 19–1:30 pm at St. Paul’s Catholic School (5-8)
March 20–9 am at Neptune Beach Elementary (K-2)
March 20–10 am at Neptune Beach Elementary (3-5)
March 21–8:30 am at Beaches Episcopal School
March 21–3 pm at Boys and Girls Club of Jacksonville Beach
March 22–8:45 am at Jacksonville Beach Elementary School (K-2)
March 22–9:45 am at Jacksonville Beach Elementary School (3-5)
March 22–TBA at San Jose Episcopal School